Rotimi Akinsete: one year in as Director of Student Welfare and Support Services

Rotimi Akinsete

Rotimi Akinsete started as Oxford’s Director of Student Welfare and Support Services (SWSS) in Michaelmas term 2021. Joining from University of Arts London, he has 25 years of experience in higher education and is a highly respected counselling practitioner in his own right. Rotimi is also actively engaged in national developments, and at Oxford he is responsible for welfare areas including the Counselling Service, Disability Advisory Service and Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service.

Reflecting on my time at Oxford so far 

I am one year in, and it has been more of a challenge here than I expected. Oxford is a large and complex organisation, and I am still navigating it all, but it is also a place where you can find opportunity to develop new approaches and build new partnerships; I am excited about and keen to draw on this huge potential for change.    

A number of important steps have been made in our continued efforts to improve the base level of excellent support and advice through my services. Whilst SWSS has had the benefit of a recent uplift to collegiate University budget funding, demand for every area under my remit is increasing across the board. This has been particularly evident after the unprecedented challenges faced by students during the pandemic. It is instructive to note that in the 2020/21 academic year, 13.5% of the student body used the Counselling Service (an increase of 7.6% on the previous year). Furthermore, almost a quarter of all students are registered with our Disability Advisory Service, above the national sector average.  

Looking forward: long-term plans for Student Welfare and Support Services 

As Director, I am committed to ensuring that SWSS can continue to look at ways to improve our services to support the wellbeing, safety and mental health of our student body, ensuring that all students have access to the services they need in the face of increasing demand. This is likely to mean making changes to the ways we have delivered our services to date, and doing so whilst maintaining the high quality our students deserve. Increased awareness of sexual violence, combined with University-wide signposting to our sector-leading Support Service, will continue to be a clear focus. Building on our commitment in this area, this year a student peer consent training pilot has launched, and colleges now have access to a new list of independent investigators and disciplinary panel members to support them in investigating cases of sexual violence and harassment.  

This is just one example of how we are enhancing our relationships across the University and beyond. Partnerships have proven critical during my time here and it’s my hope that we can get better by working even more proactively together in the very near future, whether with colleges, divisions and departments through areas such as the recently formed Joint Student Mental Health Committee or with our local NHS partners, the local authority, Thames Valley police, community services and others. 

More integration between staff wellbeing and student health and wellbeing is also an important consideration for me and I hope that the pilot staff counselling project we have just launched alongside Occupational Health Services will go a long way towards forging more collaborative approaches to mental health and wellbeing. 

My wider role as Director of Student Welfare and Support Services 

Oxford offers a unique opportunity to be part of something innovative and a genuine chance to make real, meaningful change. I welcome the opportunity for questions to be asked of me as a Black male of West African heritage, especially about how my perspective, including my work with the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network, can inform practice at Oxford.  

My role’s main responsibility lies with developing a very active and increasingly important set of central services that exist to ensure our student population receive the right type of support and in a timely manner. But, as part of my wider remit, I also hope to make meaningful contributions to the conversation about race, inclusion, identity politics and the progress the University is making in this area, following the recommendations of the Race Equality Task Force.