University to remove wardens from halls in place of new hub system

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A report has come out today clarifying allegations that the University is set to remove wardens from student halls. Simon Bray, Director of Residential and Hospitality Services, spoke to Epigram to explain the changes

Simon Bray confirmed in an interview with Epigram that there will be a new Residential Life Service Model put in place for the academic year starting in September 2018. The proposed changes have faced criticism from students who argue the changes are motivated by a need to cut costs, will see a reduction in staff on the ground and will sacrifice the community feel in many halls.

The new model is the result of a review which was launched in May 2016. Simon Bray said ‘This is no knee jerk reaction. This review is part of wider university strategy.’

In response to student complaints about the existing wellbeing and mental health support, Bray said the University aims to remodel their services to improve inclusivity and diversity.

The current model includes senior residents, deputy wardens and wardens who work and live in each halls of residence and act to organise social events and provide pastoral support. Senior residents are available in shifts and are on call 24/7. Their on-site accommodation is free or heavily subsidised in return for their services.

The new model will have senior residents or peer mentors as well as advisors who are available for student support. However, the model will see a reduction in the number of senior residents, prompting concerns there will be less people on the ground to deal with pastoral problems as they arise.

It has been reported that the review will result in savings of £800,000. In response to allegations that the changes are motivated by cost-cutting pressures, the University have argued the changes will ensure that resources are targeted on service provision rather than accommodation for student support staff.

Simon Bray said, ‘For the students this should be seen as a win-win. We are aiming to provide a service that students and the University are proud of, costing the University and therefore the students less.’

Bray added, ‘Students want a consistent service across their whole time at university. They have suggested that currently, they are not getting value for money in their accommodation.’

‘The [existing] model is expensive because of the cost of accommodation for the pastoral team rather than the cost of service provision.’

He commented, ‘We have costs. The rents have to cover those costs, the only way to get the rent down is to reduce the costs. We wanted to bring the cost base down in an efficient manner.’

When asked if these cuts will reduce the rent prices of halls, Bray responded:

'There is potential for rents to be reduced but we can’t yet make any promises. But any savings will be ring-fenced to limit student rents.’
Other key motivations for the assessment included the reviews that took place in the various schools at university, leading to the £1million additional investment that is being put into mental health services.

‘We did a four-stage approach to this review. The stages included engaging with any stakeholder with an interest in the current wellbeing provisions in halls. We reached out and asked them what we do well and what we should be doing. The feedback was fantastic.’ They reportedly spoke to previous, current and prospective students as well as staff members in the various halls at Bristol.

‘We then looked at principles and aims. The students want visible resources.’ Bray told Epigram, ‘At the moment senior residents are available until about 5ish, then they can be reached by an on-call system.

‘We feel this puts undue pressure on the senior residents. They never quite switch off. We were concerned about their wellbeing. As it stands now, they assess the issue and then call out to the wardens, whose availability is not always pre-determined.’

‘It’s a hit and miss escalation process.’
After conducting this research and developing 28 different aims, the University looked at their current services against the model and said ‘In a few areas, quite honestly it wasn’t delivering’.

‘We then went to Russell Group universities and sector leaders who score very highly in student satisfaction.’ These Universities included Sheffield, Edinburgh, Reading, Leicester, Bath and Exeter all of which are sector leading in wellbeing and student satisfaction.

As there are increasingly fewer students applying to be in catered halls, the university insists that the structure of support has to change to help students in self-catered accommodation. In self-catered accommodation, there is not a presence of wardens in and around the dining room and social areas as there might be in catered halls.

The review will see the same structures implemented in each residence, prompting criticisms that more nuance is needed in reform due to the different communities in each hall.

Many students have expressed anger at these changes in fear it may affect the community feel of many halls. One undergraduate student speaking to Epigram said: ‘I lived in the City Centre in first year and look at the experiences of friends in catered halls who had such a great support network and community experience. I think it is a poor idea to completely level the system, maybe changes need to be focused where support is failing, rather than where it is not’.

Simon Bray told Epigram that feedback from students suggested that they would not be inclined to seek help from wardens as the system currently stands. ‘Students don’t want halls structured like they were years ago.'

‘This isn’t about destroying the tradition of halls and their community feel. We’re trying to make the whole community feel supported, that should be every student not just bunches of students.’

The University acknowledged that the varied estate and different culture of halls works against diversity and inclusion, disproportionately attracting private school versus state school applicants. ‘We want to break down the stereotypes of the different halls.

‘The structure at the moment means there isn’t a lot of communication between halls. There is a real opportunity for a more joined up approach. We propose three hubs; one being Stoke Bishop, one being Clifton and one being City Centre.’ They aim to encourage more integration between halls.

However, there is truth in the claims that the role of wardens is being removed. In the new system, they will be replaced with advisers who will have a 24/7 presence in the different hubs.

‘We don’t want wellbeing to be a bolt on responsibility. We want a full staff structure, there will still be senior residents and they will just focus on wellbeing and community building. They will be paid and will work finite hours and we hope by paying them they will be able to offset their rent. The figure we are proposing will pay at least half of their rent. They should do between 10 and 12 hours a week and that’s it. The students living in the halls will understand the set up.’

Currently, the Senior Resident role is voluntary with them receiving a discount on rent. Senior residents will now be charged the same price for their room as undergraduate students but will have priority when applying for the room. The University say they will be recruited on their skill set and ability to be peer mentors.

Bristol SU support the University's plans, with Lucky Dube, Student Living Officer at Bristol SU, commenting:

'Bristol SU welcomes the review of the Residential Life (RL) model within the Division of Residences and Hospitality Service (RHS). We believe the proposed changes are a sensible response to feedback and research gathered from our students.

'We are pleased that the proposed support structure will mirror that of the new wellbeing service in Schools; we believe that parity of support across Residences and Schools is a good idea. We also welcome the retention of live-in peer support, the partial separation of discipline and pastoral support, and the more prominent role of student representatives in delivering community-building events.'

Senior residents will work with advisers working 24/7 at the hubs. These advisers will essentially replace wardens which is where any financial saving comes. ‘There will be one manager per hub and there will be student mentors engaging them in their hub focusing on wellbeing and community. So there will be a hall representative on each hub, under the supervision of advisers,’ Bray said.

The roles of deputy wardens and wardens will no longer exist. The residential life advisers will be staff roles, overseen by residential life managers and a head and deputy of residential student life. ‘It is a hub not hall based approach and it is about high-level training not volunteering. All staff would be required to undertake comprehensive training, including specific mental health training, and be expected to have a good understanding of University policies, academic processes, the different needs of different student groups and the student lifecycle to inform the support and advice they provide’, Simon Bray told Epigram.

‘At the moment students in halls probably meet their senior resident, fewer knew the deputy wardens and even fewer knew their wardens. This is something we want to change’.

Peer mentors will be allocated a cohort of students. The University say their main aim is to recruit students from more diverse backgrounds, providing them with proactive support. They claim ‘these changes are not about shutting facilities; they are about opening more. If something is successful we keep it going but we want to see what else we can do. We are led by the students.’

Simon Bray stated, ‘Once this is embedded, we will be the sector leader on this.’

The proposals have been put out for consultation and if approved, will be introduced in September 2018.


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AUTHOR

Nikki Peach

Deputy Editor 2018/19, formerly News Editor 2017/18 / Third-year English student

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