Following the news that the University of Bristol may lose millions in lost legacies due to proposed changes to the pastoral provision in halls, what actually is the proposed model and why is it so controversial?
On the 18th of December, a report was released confirming allegations that the University’s Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) is set to completely change the way pastoral care is provided in halls following an 18-month long review.
The Residential Life Service Model sees the replacement of Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents as well as the creation of three ‘hubs’, or clusters of residences, from which the new service will run. A consultation period is currently underway and if the model is eventually approved, it will be implemented from September 2018.
The proposed model has faced criticism from students, staff and alumni who argue the changes are motivated by a need to cut costs, will see a reduction of staff on the ground and will sacrifce the community feel in many halls.
The proposed changes are expected to create almost £800,000 in savings, mainly due to a reduction in the amount spent on live-in staff accommodation. In an email to all students on the 15th January, Vice- Chancellor Hugh Brady stated: 'I can guarantee that nay savings will be entirely reinvested into rent reductions or accommodation bursaries for students, and peer mentors.'
Residential Life Mentors, replacing Senior
Residents (SR), will still be students but will be paid for 10-12 hours a week instead of receiving a rent reduction as current SRs do. The proposed model includes less than half the number of SRs split between three hubs, (reduced from around 140 to 54) which will cut the ratio of SRs to residents from approximately 1:40 to 1:100.
Open meetings were held on the 23rd and 25th of January for staff and students to question Simon Bray (Director of Residential and Hospitality Services), Mark Ames (Director of Student Services), Lynn Robinson (Deputy Registrar) and Judith Squires (Pro Vice- Chancellor). Throughout the Q&A, the panel labelled the feedback they had so far received as ‘helpful’ and recognised that the initial number of proposed Residential Life Mentors and other support staff may be too low.
Despite a number of audience members doubting whether implementation in September 2018 is feasible considering the amount of opposition and the time it will take to recruit and train the new staff, Robinson argued that the speed at which the review is taking place ‘is very much to do with the feedback that we’ve had from students’. She added: ‘to take what would be more than two years to respond feels not entirely acceptable,’ but added: ‘if we feel we need to take more time we will.’
Many audience members argued that the move from a halls- based system to a hub based one and resultant reduction in live- in staff will increase the physical distance between struggling residents and the help they require. In response, Bray replied that ‘while the resource will be operating from a hub’, it will be ‘staffed 24/7 and the wellbeing team will be proactively out and about across the whole portfolio of accommodation.’
A number of current and former JCR committee members were in attendance and expressed concern over the future of community building in the new ‘hubs’, arguing it is currently unclear who is supposed to take on this responsibility. What form JCRs will take in the new model has yet to be decided.
In opposition to the proposed changes, Bristol student Leonardo De Rezende launched an online petition and told Epigram that ‘the University is e effectively trying to force these changes down the throats of the Halls. There is scope for reforming pastoral support, but the changes proposed are opposed by many residents, they misunderstand the actual role played by Senior Residents and Wardens.’ At the time of writing, the petition has more than 3,400 signatures.
Students, current and former JCR committee members, Senior Residents and bar staff members set up ‘Keep our Communities’ (KOC) in opposition to the changes. On their Facebook page, it is stated: ‘we firmly believe that the changes proposed by Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) will destroy hall communities, and will put student lives in danger through an impersonal, much smaller, and less accessible staff.’
In collaboration with 'Wills Meme-orial Building’, KOC have organised a march to protest the model on the 3rd February 2018. They told Epigram: ‘The aim of the protest is to demonstrate the opposition to the changes proposed by RHS. We believe that the seriousness of the likely consequences of this review are not being appreciated by the university.’
Three open letters, from Senior Residents, Hall Associations (alumni) and JCR Committees have been sent to university officials about the changes. All three letters highlight key concerns surrounding the review and urge the university to reconsider the changes.
Despite initially offering their support in December, after speaking to ‘hundreds of students’ Bristol SU released a statement on January 17th 2018 calling on the University ‘to immediately review’ elements of the halls review. Lucky Dube, Student Living Officer at Bristol SU, said in his most recent statement that the SU are ‘supporting the fundamentals of the proposal’ but agree with students that ‘there are reasons to be concerned’, especially surrounding ‘the number of Residential Life Mentors.’ The Tab Bristol reported on Friday that a petition calling for the SU to hold a referendum on its official position on the review had reached over 400 signatures. As the SU required 367 signatures for a referendum on policy, discussions will begin next week.
A University spokesperson told Epigram: ‘We acknowledge the great work of our current support teams (both staff and students), who are dedicated individuals who work beyond the call of duty to support our students.
‘However, it is vital that support services in our residences can adapt to increasing student numbers, greater diversity in the student body, and more complex student wellbeing issues.
‘Thank you to everyone who has already fed back their thoughts, ideas and concerns about the proposal – we welcome and value your input. We acknowledge that concerns are being raised about the numbers of staff and peer mentors in the proposal. We take this very seriously and will be reviewing the proposal on this basis.
‘Given the level of engagement, we have decided to extend this phase of consultation from the original date of 1 February to Friday 9 February.
‘Once this phase of the consultation ends, the proposal will be reviewed, and a firmer proposal made by Friday 16 February. Some details will be finalised at that stage, but additional open meetings will be arranged to address any further questions, concerns or feedback.’
According to a University spokesperson, the key features of the new model are:
A specialised team of frontline support staff, including:
-Three full-time Residential Life Managers (to live on-site, lead Residential Life Teams, coordinate student support and help build ‘inclusive communities’)
-15 full-time Residential Life Advisers (to provide ‘proactive student engagement’, support and community building)
-54 part-time Residential Life Mentors (students who live on-site, provide peer-to-peer support and support for community building, social events and residential activities)
-Volunteer Residence Reps (groups of students from each residence who work with Bristol SU to provide a programme of educational and social activities).
-Clearly defined work shifts to ensure support is available 24/7 and 365 days a year.
-All staff will receive comprehensive training, including specialised mental health training.
-The Service will run from three residential villages,clusters of residences in Clifton, Stoke Bishop and the City Centre (a fourth village planned for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus).
-Peer-to-peer support from live-in Residential Life Mentors combined with round-the-clock support from full-time Residential staff in the residential villages will ensure that students always have a visible, accessible and approachable source of help.
-To connect ‘seamlessly’ with the University-wide Student Wellbeing Service (including the wellbeing advisers coming to schools and faculties) and an inclusive programme of social and community building activities offered by other University divisions (e.g. Sport, Exercise and Health) and Bristol SU.
-Continued student representation through Junior Common Rooms (JCRs) or similar in the new model, as well as Hall Advisory Committees/groups or similar.
-Any cost savings from delivering a new model will be entirely reinvested into rent reductions or accommodation bursaries for students and Residential Life Mentors.
Featured image Epigram / Alexia Kirov