A copy of the open letter sent from all the Hall Associations in response to the University's proposed Residential Life Service Model.
Professor Hugh Brady, Vice Chancellor and President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Denis Burn Esq, Chair of the Board of Trustees (email@example.com)
Stephen O'Connor Esq, Director of Development and Alumni Relations (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Simon Bray Esq and Mark Ames Esq (email@example.com)
All by e mail and by post to
University of Bristol, Senate House, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, BS8 1TH
Proposed Residential Life Service Model
This letter is sent on behalf of the Hall alumni associations set out below and our members. We are some of the University’s most active alumni and benefactors. We are all greatly concerned about the University’s proposed changes in pastoral care.
We welcome the focus that the University has on pastoral care and its commitment to fully accessible pastoral care for all its students, but we believe the plans will lead to a significant deterioration in the overall level of pastoral care provided and put students at risk.
The University needs strong residential communities in order to stand the best chance of fulfilling its ambitious strategy and expansion plans. While some improvements should be made, the University has strong residential communities at the moment, which we believe the proposals put at significant risk.
We have set out below our response to the consultation the University forwarded to Hall alumni associations on 20 December on the Proposed Residential Life Service Model. This is split into the following sections:
1. Our understanding of the proposals: The proposed model will deliver an increase in the number of office based roles on paper but a very drastic reduction in the number of available pastoral staff. In particular the reduction in on-site residential staff is 72 per cent by headcount and involves the complete removal of wardens and deputy wardens. The University will lose the stability and leadership these senior figures have provided to residences.
2. Strengths of the current system: While improvements are possible, indeed necessary, the current pastoral teams are fundamentally strong and serve the University well. The University has discounted the nature of this pastoral support that has led to strong residential communities. The proposed model does not represent any investment by the University and will provide far more limited pastoral support.
3. Weaknesses of the consultation and design process: The procedures and consultations behind the proposals are extremely weak and are poorly executed.
4. A high likelihood of unintended consequences and a failure to consider relevant risk factors: We believe the new model will not achieve the vision and principles the University has set itself and we see no evidence that risk factors and challenges of implementation have been seriously considered. We set out the significant risks we see. We believe students will bear the brunt of this new model and the University’s top down management approach does not provide effective pastoral care or respond to the needs of students. The new model will mean significant reputational risk for the University.
5. Our recommendations: We would urge the Vice-Chancellor and the University to allow time for a meaningful reconsideration of this review and consultation focused on Bristol students and with a real understanding of the needs and issues involved. We believe the University should build on the strengths of the existing pastoral teams and support coordination between residences and academic Faculties and Schools, whilst robustly addressing the weaknesses that the current teams have identified. There is a need for professional support and investment and a much better designed review is essential.
We would stress the following points at the outset:
- We have reviewed carefully the proposals. We do not oppose change on principle and would support a new model which provides an improvement in pastoral care, but we firmly believe the University will be making a very serious mistake if it chooses to follow the current proposals.
- While we are from hall associations we appreciate the range of residences the University offers to students and that pastoral care across all residences and for all students in the University is important. It is vital there is equal access to high quality pastoral care.
- We appreciate the University’s ambitious expansion plans will mean it requires a significant expansion in its residences (we understand an extra 4000 beds in the next 5 to 6 years). This is against a background of costs constraints. In particular due to political change the student fees cap has not been lifted.
- We strongly believe the University should approach the review of pastoral care in a more considered and collaborative way, with proper time allowed and would be pleased to be involved in that. We have provided our contact details to you separately.
Badock Hall Association
Churchill Hall Association
Manor Hall Association
Wills Hall Association
1. Our understanding of the proposals
The management of pastoral care in the halls will move from Residential and Hospitality Services to Student Services.
All current pastoral roles within the halls of residence will cease to exist (wardens, deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior residents in their current form).
The only existing role in the overall residential pastoral structure that will remain is the Head of Residential Life– this is the new title for the current Head of Student Residential Life, Caroline Court, who is the line manager for all wardens. We understand Ms Court will assume this new role without interview. She will be provided with housing as an employee benefit.
The Head of Residential Life will also acquire a Deputy, who will be provided with housing as an employee benefit.
The Head of Residential Life will be supported by one Executive Administrator and three Residential Life Administrators (one in each Hub – see below). These four are the only administrators in the new system, to replace the current total of 12-15 student support advisors.
Pastoral Care in Hubs/Halls
Below this group of people, “on the ground”, everything will be managed via three hubs: (a) a Stoke Bishop Hub, (b) a Clifton and Postgraduate Student Hub and (c) a City Centre Hub. The focus is intended to be on student wellbeing and pastoral care as well as community-building. There is potential also for (d) a Temple Quarter Hub when that major development is completed.
Within each hub there will be a Residential Life Manager (live-in), five Residential Life Advisers (not live-in) and across all three hubs there will be a team of approximately 54 Residential Life Mentors in total (live-in). As noted above each hub will have a Residential Life Administrator. The five Residential Life Advisers per hub will not necessarily be five individual people: if some are part-time, there will be a total of five “full-time equivalents” (FTEs), who may be as many as ten individuals.
Each Residential Life Manager will live in her/his hub, will work during the day and be on call after hours (but not seven days a week). S/He will deal with disciplinary matters as well as managing the pastoral provision. This will be her/his substantive role (unlike current wardens and deputy wardens, who all have substantive roles in the University and undertake their hall duties in addition).
The Residential Life Mentors replace Senior Residents: they will still be students, but there will be fewer than half the current numbers (54 in total compared to 168 now, so the ratio of Residential Life Mentors to students under their care will rise from approximately 1:40 to approximately 1:125). Residential Life Mentors will be paid as employees for 10-12 hours a week, in 44-week or 52-week contracts, doing 2 shifts per week, 7 pm to midnight, and will not receive a rent reduction (as current Senior Residents do). The idea is that everyone in the new model is paid for their work.
The 5 FTE Residential Life Advisers in each hub will work during the afternoons and early evenings (2 per hub) and one will be on duty overnight. They will not live in and they will deal only with pastoral issues (and apparently pass on disciplinary matters to Residential Life Managers without themselves engaging in disciplinary procedures). There will be no pastoral cover between 8am and midday.
Bar club licences will no longer be held by individual halls but by the Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) Division.
The new model refers to ‘Residential Life Advisory Committee’ and ‘Hall Alumni Committee’: these will probably be one per hub, rather than committees for each individual hall.
The model refers to Residences Reps in each of the three hubs. It appears these will replace the JCRs, which will cease to exist as separate Hall entities, but the Students Union will work with Residences Reps on social and educational activities.
Links with the Student Union and University-sponsored activities (like Active Residences – i.e. sports in Halls) remain.
There is a view that the Students Union appreciates the proposed changes because it sees in them an opportunity to ‘seize ground’ (and funding) currently occupied by JCRs. Hall residents are profoundly sceptical of the Student Union’s ability to replace JCR functions, on the basis of many years’ experience of disorganisation and lack of focus.
The new system will provide points of contact for Hall Associations, although these are not yet specified.
The following summary table sets out the new roles as provided by the University. “FTE” refers to full time equivalent:
- 1.0 FTE Deputy Director of Student Services (Residential Life and Student Wellbeing) (50% associated with RHS budget)
- 1.0 FTE Head of Residential Life
- 1.0 FTE Deputy Head of Student Wellbeing
- 3.0 FTE Residential Life Managers
- 15.0 FTE Residential Life Advisers - two per hub Monday to Sunday 16:00-24:00, one per hub Monday to Sunday 24:00 to 08:00, one per hub Saturday and Sunday 08:00 to 16:00 plus Wednesday 11:00 to 17:00 to allow overlap with other shifts and casual cover for absences
- 1.0 FTE Residential Experience Coordinator
- 1.0 FTE Community Liaison Manager
- 1.0 FTE Executive Administrator
- 3.0 FTE Residential Life Administrators
- 54.0 Residential Life Mentors (44 or 52-week fixed term contracts @ 10 hours per week)
Total: 27 FTE roles (6 at management level) and 54 Residential Life Mentors
By contrast the existing residences pastoral roles can be summarised as follows:
- 1.0 FTE Head of Student Residential Life
- 1.0 FTE Residential Experience Coordinator
- 1.0 FTE Community Liaison Manager
- 1.0 FTE PA to Head of Student Residential Life
- 12 FTE Student Support Advisers (approx. due to job shares)
- 2 FTE Student Support Officers (all part time, one year fixed term contract)
- 12 Wardens
- 24 Deputy Wardens
- 168 Senior Residents (appointed for September 2017)
Total: 18 FTE roles and 204 on site residential roles
In summary: The University proposes 27 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles in the new system as compared to 18 full-time equivalent roles currently. However this apparent rise of a third in office-based roles at the top end of the model must be set against the very significant loss of the current wardens, deputy wardens and senior residents living on site. The importance of their being available in this way cannot be overstated. While the consultation refers to the senior office holders being available out of hours for pastoral or emergency incidents in the new model, this is very different from being resident on site. At the moment the pastoral teams are both on call and living alongside students. Therefore the increase in office-based roles does not mean there will be greater availability of staff - in fact the opposite is true.
In addition there is a very significant drop in the number of academic staff and graduates involved in delivering the pastoral support in the current system. At the moment 204 staff live on-site and of this number 12 are wardens and 24 deputy wardens – all senior individuals. In the new system the number of on-site residential staff will be 57 comprising 54 residential life mentors and the three residential life managers who will be the only individuals living on site: approximately 28 per cent. by head count of the existing 204 individuals performing the warden, deputy warden and senior resident roles – a drop of 147 people or approximately 72 per cent.. Significantly, the model involves the complete removal of wardens and deputy wardens and so these senior individuals are lost from the pastoral system.
2. Strengths of the current system
The University has a 204 strong team of wardens, deputy wardens and senior residents who ensure pastoral provision and a strong academic connection within residences for a modest stipend or free or reduced cost accommodation. This is a deal which it would be hard for the University to equal in terms of value for money and reflects staff commitment to the value of university education and experience. In addition most residences have their own student support adviser. While some improvements should be made to improve this system, the University has a tremendous strength in its existing residences and pastoral care arrangements. It is hard to understand its proposal to replace this with a far inferior model.
The new model is in no way a "USP" for Bristol as intended at the outset of the review. Bristol already has a USP in its residences. These are distinct from Oxford, Cambridge and Durham colleges, but also very distinct from the run-of-the-mill 'patrolling shift staff' model that is now being proposed. This is because of the level of residential pastoral care provided and the residences’ reputation as strong communities. By removing this USP, the University is disadvantaging itself needlessly and puts its reputation at significant risk.
The current pastoral teams are fundamentally strong and have served the University well. Wardens and deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior residents intervene and show real leadership. Where issues arise, these are very frequently nipped in the bud at an early stage rather than becoming significant (a fact that the review seems not to have recognised at all). The quality of community life in residences does not happen by accident. Where leadership is only nominal the community instead becomes no more than an offering of serviced accommodation with far less support for individuals, particularly those most in need.
Nature of strong pastoral support: It is clear the University has failed to appreciate the role that the 204 wardens, deputy wardens and senior residents play at the moment. For the most part these are not desk-bound roles, but involve living alongside undergraduates in the residences. Not every moment is spent in completing reports, holding meetings or dealing with administration, but the 204 individuals are visible senior role models and leaders in the residences.
The withdrawal of this pastoral support will significantly weaken the residential communities: The nature of the support that wardens, deputy wardens and senior residents provide is immense and must not be discounted. The active involvement of these individuals in the life of residences leads to balanced communities. The University will not have this in the new system. It is also very important each residence has a student support adviser, and whilst it is equally important that mechanisms be found to ensure that the student support advisers do not become ‘single points of weakness’, there are better ways of doing that than overturning the whole system.
Residences support student life beyond the first year. The majority of the students live in a residence for at least one year and when they then live out the links that have been forged in residences provide ongoing support. Many students living out will retain their links with the residence, going back to see friends and attend events.
The pastoral system supports the JCRs which ensure a high quality of residential life. It appears the Residences Reps are intended to replace the JCRs, which will cease to exist as separate entities. Instead the Students Union will work with Residences Reps on social and educational activities. At present, JCRs rely very heavily upon the advice and experience of the residences pastoral staff, particularly in matters concerning welfare, events, University structure and local residents. This advice is invaluable, highly specific and necessarily differs from residence to residence. It cannot be meaningfully replaced by a centralised structure and the Students Union does not have the structure or resources to provide the support required. This will lead to a significant deterioration in the quality of student life. We note that the Student Union advertised at the end of November 2017 for a new liaison officer to support halls of residence activities and events (although the position is no longer displayed on the University website). This would in no way meet the considerable need for support that there will be if the existing pastoral support is withdrawn.
The proposed pastoral provision within Faculties and Schools will not be able to provide the support needed. It is worth noting that despite the much publicised investment in school/departmental wellbeing officers, most of these have not yet been appointed and there is a great deal of concern among academic staff as to what these roles will involve and how the University plans for the role to work. Staff have noted that the new school/departmental wellbeing officers have no specific counselling or welfare qualifications and may well be less able than academic staff to deal with student needs. As with the proposals for the residences, no provision is made for qualified professional counsellors and the small number of professional counsellors the University has available are very stretched.
It is also not by any means the case that students automatically self-refer and the support of on-site residential care ensures that many more cases of student need are identified and can be dealt with effectively at a far earlier stage.
The University has been concerned with cases of the most acute need. There have been well-publicised cases of student suicide among the most vulnerable students in recent years. While nobody can claim there will be an easy solution to the cases of most acute need, we believe there needs to be real understanding of the symptoms of mental ill-health, and how to respond, which the consultation does not appear to have done in any meaningful way. Students can become vulnerable and it is not possible to anticipate who will be affected. The focus must be on getting to know students while they are in residences and recognising what is unusual behaviour for them. By seeing the undergraduates daily at close quarters, wardens, deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior residents play a critical role in effective pastoral care. By greatly reducing the on-site pastoral provision it becomes far more likely the cases of most acute need will be missed. Other undergraduates simply do not have the experience to identify issues in the same way.
The University has responded to initial criticism of its proposal by attacking the current system and staff and we fundamentally disagree with this. A University spokesperson told the Tab: "Our current model of residential pastoral support was designed at a time when we had far fewer students, far less diversity in our student body, a much more limited range of Halls, and when the complexity of mental health and wellbeing issues was much less than now." We disagree. The system has continued to evolve. Residences staff receive training in relevant aspects of student care and are far better placed to provide the care than their proposed replacements in the new system. To respond to a greater number of students with complex needs by cutting the number of staff, reducing overall investment and taking away the immediate pastoral care from the residences in favour of a centralised structure seems a poor plan.
The proposed model does not represent any investment by the University and does not provide professional pastoral support. While the designers of the new model may refer to benefits of centralisation and talk about investment, the proposal represents a cost saving for the University that it has been unwilling to say will be passed onto students by way of reduced rents. Like current staff, new staff will receive training, but none of them will be required to possess any professional qualification in a relevant discipline or specialism. The University Deputy Registrar is on record as confirming these new teams should not therefore be described as “professional”.
It is unsurprising that there has been a great deal of concern among University staff, students and alumni over the proposals. We would share the concerns expressed in the recent Tab, Epigram, Bristol Post and Guardian articles and the Change.Org petition (https://www.change.org/p/university-of-bristol-stop-abolition-of-wardens...). We also note the widespread concern over the proposals among University staff and students as well as many alumni and benefactors (including many Bristol “Pioneers”). One of our members put it well when he wrote to the Vice Chancellor on Christmas Eve:
"I am specifically concerned about the proposals to reduce the number of staff involved in the local care of students, reducing the distinctive identity of individual halls and disbanding the JCR committees. My personal experience was that these were critical factors in creating a strong and healthy hall community and that this is the fundamental foundation of a caring and effective pastoral system.
"I care deeply about our university and am indebted for the care and support it gave me as a student in a hall of residence. Now as a parent I find myself in the position of supporting and advising my children and their friends in deciding where they would like to study. Bristol would always have been top of my list. If these recommendations are implemented I would have to question recommending my own university to my children - a sad position to be in."
3. Weaknesses of the consultation and design process
The procedures and consultations behind the proposals are extremely weak and have been poorly executed. The consultations that have been carried out have been informal and there are significant gaps in parties who have been consulted.
Stage 1 (May 2016 – May 2017) involved consultation with a diverse range of groups but it has been impossible to review the data and determine how the conclusions were reached.
Stage 2 (June – October 2017) has been led individually by Simon Bray and Mark Ames and seems to have focussed on what other universities do rather than looking meaningfully at Bristol’s situation. Insufficient time is now being allowed for the consultation on Stage 2 which the University seems to be approaching primarily as an HR exercise.
Stage 1: The Hall Associations and others have requested from the University details of the data and feedback from Stage 1. In each case the only substantive material provided is a five-page power point presentation from May 2017 which is extremely bland and general.
Stage 2: The University has benchmarked its model of residential student support with the arrangements at eight other universities (Edinburgh, Sheffield, Leicester, Birmingham, KCL, Reading, Bath and Exeter). The University has explained that these were selected because of the diversity of approaches and, in most cases, evidence of high student satisfaction. The models were compared on delivery and on cost. We strongly believe this approach misunderstands the importance of pastoral provision and its role in making Bristol a strong university. The benchmarking exercise appears to be an attempt to legitimise a drastic attack on one of Bristol’s great strengths. Many staff and alumni have questioned the choice of the benchmark universities which generally appear to be below the standing of Bristol and include three non-Russell Group universities (ie Leicester, Reading and Bath).
The time allowed for consultation is being kept to a minimum and is unreasonable. The divisional review began in May 2016, feedback was collected in January – March 2017, and the new model was announced shortly before Christmas 2017 and needs to be fully operational for September 2018. The time scales do not make sense and are unrealistic.
The arrangements for the current consultation appear contrived and the major governance bodies of the University are being side-stepped. The proposals were signed off by the University Management Team (UMT) in early December. We understand this was after a brief presentation (approximately 10 minutes) with no written materials being provided ahead of the meeting. Reportedly the presentation did not include costs or staffing details but only general principles. Senate has not seen the details officially, neither has Court and the Board of Trustees does not hold its next scheduled meeting until 16 March 2018 when the “consultation” process will be over, and the plans probably finalised.
The choice of consultation period will limit the range of responses received.Wardens were given details of the new model on Wednesday 13 December. The other members of the teams had presentations on Friday 15 December. This was just in time for Christmas when the University effectively closes for several weeks. When students return in January they will have two weeks of exams and reading weeks and will not be best placed to focus on a consultation.
The current pastoral teams have not been involved in the design of the new model. Wardens, deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior residents have been kept at arm’s length from the design and construction of a new pastoral model. This is despite a request from the wardens that a previous warden be appointed to the review panel, which was refused. This does not seem consistent with best practice.
The Residences and Hospitality Services (RHS) Division has a poor track record in delivering change. The RHS Division has been responsible for a number of failures. It has centralised Hall bars, for example, taking away the (profitable) independence they had enjoyed since their establishment. Whilst previously routinely generating funds that have provided equipment and facilities for the halls (including in one case a concert grand piano), together they now make a deficit of £150,000 every year. Even the Student Union bar, which serves both the Winston Theatre and the Anson Rooms music venue, makes a £64,000 loss. We understand the Hawthorns Staff Dining Room has recently been closed because the RHS Division was unable to run it without significant losses. Staff turnover in catering and hospitality is alarmingly high and morale in all areas of the Division is at an extremely low ebb.
In relation to the consultation’s proposal that bar club licences will no longer be held by individual halls but by the RHS Division, we would highlight an issue that may not have been considered. To be eligible for a bar club licence, a club has to be managed by a dedicated committee and have control over its finances. It is hard to see how the University would be able to make a successful central application for a new licence for all the residences in each hub as one ‘club’. It is also questionable whether local residents would be supportive of new applications given the risks to them and their communities of late-night noise or bad behaviour with the decreased live-in student supervision.
The RHS Division’s recent management of the student support advisors may also be questioned. Over the last year eight student support advisors have resigned, leaving 50 per cent. of residences without this experienced support or staffed by short-term and less experienced replacement staff. It has been reported that this is largely due to increases in their workloads imposed by the RHS Division. Similar issues exist for senior residents. Certainly changes need to be made but it is unlikely the RHS Division’s prescription for change is effective. This is discussed further in the next section.
4. A high likelihood of unintended consequences and a failure to consider relevant risk factors
The Vision and Principles on which the University has based its review are as follows:
Vision: Fostering inclusive, supportive and empowering communities that enable students to live and study independently at the University of Bristol.
- Provide an accessible and comprehensive student welfare framework that fosters the wellbeing of residential students
- Provide a student centred and suitably skilled student ‘life and wellbeing’ team that is highly visible and accessible to students
- Foster diverse and inclusive communities, that support and are informed by the needs of different student cohorts
- Create supportive and safe environments for students to live and study independently
- Maximise residential infrastructure to create a positive student experience and tangible value for money
- Work in partnership with students, staff and local communities to provide a seamless, sustainable and consistent service
In our view the poor review and consultation procedures have led to a poorly designed model, unlikely to achieve this vision and these principles, and with a high likelihood of unintended consequences. It is noticeable that only one proposed model has been put forward and there has been no consideration of the risk factors involved in implementing and delivering the model
The new model is neither as accessible nor as comprehensive as the current system for the following reasons:
- 1. It cannot reasonably be described as ‘student-centred’, given the physical remoteness of the help potentially available and the reduction in support staff.
- The skill-base of the new teams is no more ‘suitable’ than that of current teams (no additional qualifications are required for new staff), and by sacrificing the experience and professional seniority of many of the current staff it in fact risks substantial ‘deskilling’
- The new model has little or no capacity for community development and support.
- There is nothing in it that responds directly or indirectly to the needs of ‘different student cohorts’, and certainly nothing that distinguishes it from the current model in this respect.
- With fewer pastoral staff living in, with those on duty almost always remote rather than present, it simply cannot be the case that the residential environment in the new model is more ‘supportive and safe’ than in the current system; it will self-evidently be less supportive and will almost certainly be less safe.
- It is not clear what ‘maximize residential infrastructure’ actually means, but the new model will diminish student experience rather than enhance it because the existing hall communities will be eviscerated.
- The new model costs less, but this is not the same as value-for-money.
- The current pastoral teams cost each student less than £9 per week (for on-site support 24/7, for a strong and varied team with senior staff presence, for the running of all events, clubs, societies, sports, drama, music, etc., for rapid intervention at times of crisis, for ongoing support for longer-term issues – and so on). Given the physically dispersed nature of the new model, and the preponderance of shift-working staff (contrasted with the consistent presence of the current teams) it cannot possibly be ‘seamless’ in its application.
- We believe it is not ‘sustainable’.
- Local communities will be horrified when they hear of the huge reduction in on-site supervision of students: they complain already, when there are dedicated teams to monitor welcome-week and post-examination partying; their dissatisfaction when these times are wholly unsupervised will be vocal.
With no evidence that risk factors and challenges of implementation have been seriously considered we have listed below those which seem most significant to us:
It is very likely the new model cannot be delivered in time for the next academic year starting in September 2018 and will not be fit for purpose
It is very unclear if the University will be able to recruit sufficient staff in time to deliver the new system. We believe the new roles are likely to be unsuitable for most current pastoral staff, and the new teams will almost certainly consist to a very large extent of mainly new recruits. The investment in 24 school/departmental wellbeing officers announced in September 2017 has so far recruited only 8, and the remainder are unlikely to be in place before early summer. As noted above there have been significant retention issues with current student support administrators. While it might be easier to recruit the 54 paid on-site residential life mentors, the fact that their accommodation in residences will be at full price will constitute a disincentive. We question if the RHS Division has considered that many research postgraduates who teach in their Departments will have no further capacity to sign up for the mentor roles without incurring tax penalties. Overseas students also have restrictions in their right to take on paid employment, which the senior resident roles avoid. There will, in other words, be a form of indirect discrimination practised in the new model, which we believe suffers from a lack of ‘joined-up thinking’.
The RHS Division is belatedly trying to find out information on the day to day running of residences. Following publication of the new model, halls have been asked for detailed information about what kind of (and how many) interactions the pastoral teams have with students. This is information that the RHS Division needed before it began work on the new model. It is astonishing that the new model was prepared without this detailed knowledge. At the 13 December meeting announcing the new model to Wardens, the Divisional Director claimed that he knew exactly what pastoral teams do “because I get all the Security Reports”. This is also astonishing: those “on the ground” know that Security Reports reflect only 2-3% of what happens in residences. This level of ignorance on the part of the management team that has designed the new model is shocking, but it does explain to some extent why this team has come up with such an inadequate and unworkable model.
The model centralises pastoral provision and will be inaccessible in case of real need. The proposal states that the new model replaces the on-call regime with a physical, roving, staff presence on the campus at all times. This is inaccurate and misunderstands the current system. The residences pastoral teams are very much a physical presence, and are very pro-active. Many of the staff in the new model will instead be sitting in an office waiting for someone to ring up. The current pastoral model has each Senior Resident living close to his/her group of approximately 40 students. The new Residential Life Mentors replacing Senior Residents must contend with a far higher ratio to the number of students: this increases from approximately 1:40 to 1:125. It is unclear how a “roving team” will compensate for this, or indeed how the RHS Division expects “roving” to identify student problems at all: merely walking round or patrolling during a 5-hour shift is a lamentably poor substitute for living, eating and socialising with students, week-in, week-out.
The costs information has been misrepresented
Pastoral care is a relatively small cost. The University has made much of the need to offer value for money to students. However, even taking the highest estimate that the University has produced, the cost of the pastoral teams overall is less than 7% of the income generated from rents. The pastoral provision seems an unsuitable target at a time of increased concern about the importance of providing strong pastoral support and the University’s expansion plans.
Costs savings seem unlikely to be passed on to students. The University has explicitly refused to confirm to staff and students that rents will be reduced. This has been Simon Bray’s position in meetings with wardens, deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior residents, and in Hall advisory committee meetings. Further, in a minuted University committee meeting with Student Union representatives present the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) suggested that rents might still need to go up. This contrasts with statements given to the Press in response to criticism, which suggest that all savings will be directed at rent reduction (e.g. Bristol Post, 21/12/17: http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/concerns-bristol-universi... and The Guardian, 24/12/17: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/dec/24/bristol-university-urg...).
After ‘consultations’, RHS has consistently suggested that students want discipline separated from pastoral care, but this will not be achieved in the new model. It is wholly unclear what is the statistical basis for the RHS Division’s prioritisation of this issue, and we suspect it is based merely on the comments of a small number of students or survey questions being posed in a particular way. Be this as it may, the new model is not different from the old with respect to the separation or combination of support and discipline. In the current system wardens are the arbiters of most disciplinary issues (with minor infringements dealt with by deputy wardens or senior residents). They are not usually the first port of call for welfare problems – students will go first to senior residents and student support advisers, who will refer on the most significant issues to wardens and deputy wardens. Student support advisers routinely filter out disciplinary matters when pastoral care is the priority and students largely understand this. The new model is no different: hub managers will take on discipline, just as wardens currently do; hub advisers will front pastoral care, just as student support advisers currently do. But residential life advisers will be the conduit for disciplinary matters just as student support advisers are now. It is not possible to establish complete separation between these two areas. Neither is it desirable. All the pastoral teams can give numerous examples of how a serious pastoral issue emerges as part of a disciplinary process, and will confirm that when this occurs, the pastoral always takes priority.
Student wellbeing will suffer
The model prioritises costs savings over student wellbeing. Future intakes of students will be significantly worse off than students at the moment. However the University might describe this, care and support is being cut. The hub model will make efficiency savings. The consultation document notes that Although significantly reduced with the proposed model, the cost per bed space is still higher than the benchmark institutions. This is because we consider it important to include live-in and 24/7 support, as well as to integrate the service provision with student services. However the “live-in and 24/7 support” is being cut from a staff of 204 wardens, deputy wardens and senior residents to 57 staff members, many of whom will be off duty due to shift working patterns (3 residential life managers and 54 residential life mentors). The consultation pays only lip service to the strengths of the current system.
Acute cases of need will not be properly treated. As noted above, by greatly reducing the on-site pastoral provision it becomes far more likely the cases of most acute need will be missed. The mother of a Bristol student who killed himself told the Sunday Times: "I didn’t think a tower block with just a kitchen and five chairs to socialise in was very suitable for students… The community room was a room with chairs and space. No bar, no TV. The student union was the other side of town. We were surprised at quite how much students seemed to be left on their own. "(Sunday Times, 26 November 2017).
The model does not engage with current issues in the system, which are partly caused by the University’s own “top-down” approach to its residences
Senior residents: The University has made much of the difficulties faced by senior residents and noted in its December 2017 Student Support In Residences Stage 3 Q&As that there is a lack of clarity about boundaries around the senior resident role and the University has a duty of care to the senior residents, believing that the current system might support undergraduates by putting the senior residents at risk.
Issues caused by the University’s own requirements: Consistent feedback from senior residents has been that the burden imposed on them from the University’s central administration has been severe and this is what has made the roles challenging. Senior residents have been required to deliver training on a range of set topics including sexual consent, drug and alcohol use and mental health, as well as comply with University requests that specific activities are organised. While many of the requirements may be well-motivated, this top-down approach to managing residences and controlling the senior resident role focuses on administrative requirements and is not designed to meet the needs of students. In particular an inflexible approach to requiring a set number of student meetings or specific events, such as so-called ‘kitchen meetings’ even for catered halls, misunderstands and discounts the many activities that happen in most residences as a matter of course.
The model does not show how these current issues will be resolved. The consultation document notes that "An enormous amount is expected, particularly from senior residents, and it is difficult to expect staff/senior students to do more or even undertake adequate training on top of their full-time staff or student roles. Many pastoral staff struggle to prioritise this work over their day jobs." There is no evidence of any such struggle. Wardens and deputy wardens, who are arguably most exposed to this potential tension, agree that with care and planning, both substantive role and hall functions can easily be managed. However the new model will cut the number of staff involved: 54 residential life mentors (who will still have “day jobs”) replace 168 senior residents. This is contradictory.
Student support advisers: Feedback from student support advisers is that for several years they have been required to deal with a significant amount of extra requests imposed directly on them from the University’s Accommodation Office and RHS Division. In particular they must comply with very specific data collection requirements and the procedures required for events such as a room change or students joining a hall part way through an academic year are disproportionate and time-consuming.
New measures for dealing with temporary shares at the start of term are hugely time-consuming, not only administratively but in respect of pastoral support for students who are anxious and unhappy when struggling to share. No account has been taken of this additional burden. Some student support advisers have had significant residential portfolio additions (eg new halls and often a large number of additional properties) that require separate attention and more time. Centralising procedures has frequently added to workload: instead of scheduling the time needed to plan and prepare major events (such as arrivals), student support advisers have to wait for slow and inefficient central agencies to deliver data. Centralising websites, hall guides, freshers' week plans and arrivals arrangements is only superficially efficient: time still has to be spent on rewriting and tailoring these to the specific requirements of individual locations. Disciplinary processes are hugely cumbersome now they are centralised. The ostensible gain in consistency is largely offset by a large increase in time spent on paperwork. Student support advisers also spent a disproportionate amount of time dealing with parking issues via the centralised system: these used to be simple when residences ran their own carparks, but now generate large quantities of email correspondence.
As noted in section 3 above, eight of the student support advisers have left over the past year due to pressure of the role.
Both senior residents and student support advisers have important pastoral roles they perform but feel they are hampered from doing these by the amount of University administration imposed on them. We firmly believe that the University’s proposals will significantly increase this problem and leave students without the on-site support which they need. The solution is one that is designed to meet administrative requirements but not to deal with the day-to-day needs of students in a meaningful way.
The solution is not to reduce residential pastoral care to the lowest common denominator
The three “residential hubs” are intended to produce parity of residential experience across the University. They will take the place of the Hall communities, each hub serving approximately 2000-2500 residents in total. This is a huge number to manage with such a small team. Moreover there will be far less on site care available. The comments of the mother above suggest this is not a responsible course of action. The University will run significant reputational risk if it adopts the model.
The University has said it wishes to provide a “team that is highly visible and accessible”. For the reasons set out above the reverse is true. Where the review set out to improve pastoral provision and ensure this remains one of Bristol’s USPs the proposals have the effect of removing a strong system and putting a far weaker one in its place.
The better solution must be to look carefully at where the University provides a high level of pastoral care and consider how this can best be shared across the University. We discuss this further in section 5 below. If this is not done then the University will weaken strong communities that exist at the moment instead of strengthening those areas perceived as weak, and risk far more acute cases of need failing to receive support.
Instead, it appears the University deliberately wishes to eliminate the distinctiveness of halls. With wardens, deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior resident posts abolished and JCRs set to be disbanded, residences will no longer be run as distinctive communities. While this point in itself is not our main concern it troubles us to see this statement in the consultation document: "The varied estate and different culture of halls works against our diversity and inclusion aims with some halls disproportionately attracting private school vs state school applicants and others unattractive to international students. This lack of diversity in different halls has proved very difficult to shift." We strongly dispute this. The University has run the allocation of residence places centrally since around 2007 so halls themselves have no control whatever over which students are placed with them. The driver – obviously – is the cost of the halls. In some Stoke Bishop halls rooms cost more than twice what students in the City Centre have to pay. The pastoral review cannot be an effective means to address the private school versus state school issue, and indeed nothing in the new model suggests that this imbalance will be addressed in any way. It is misleading to lay this issue at the door of the pastoral teams.
The University also wishes to end the support and involvement of academic staff for the residences and is devaluing and discounting their commitment and dedication. The intention to attack the existing pastoral staff in residences becomes clearer when the above statement goes on: There is also a relative lack of diversity in staff teams, and little proactive support for diverse groups. We would challenge the University to substantiate this. Senior staff in residences reflect a cross section of the University’s senior academic staff. Senior Resident teams are gender-balanced where applications make this possible, always international and multi-ethnic, and are reflective of different sexual orientations. We support diversity and inclusiveness in all residences, as do the current pastoral teams, but how will removing all the current wardens, deputy wardens, student support advisers and senior residents achieve this?
5. Our recommendations
We urge the University to allow more time for a meaningful review and consultation, focussed on Bristol’s students and closely involving those with real experience of residential life, to allow a real understanding of the all-round needs of students.
While it is very important to avoid the significant risks that the current proposals entail, we believe this is an opportunity to make a much more positive contribution to the future of pastoral care in the University.
We believe the following points should be given serious consideration. We would not expect that revised proposals can be properly anticipated now since it will take significant work for these to be formulated. However the following represent ideas which our members have shared with us. We would be pleased to discuss all of these in detail.
Building on the strengths of the existing pastoral teams
The University should carry out a full audit of the strengths of its current pastoral system and the strengths of each different residence. Distinctiveness of residences should not be seen as a threat to the University but as rather one of its considerable strengths. Identify the examples of best practice and successes the University has enjoyed and how these can best be shared across the University so every student has equal access to strong pastoral support.
A formal affiliation between residences and students that live in private accommodation should be put in place. In practice this is something many halls of residence have done in any case, with students returning to their previous residences for social events and to see friends after moving out.
The University must examine issues that requirements for senior residents and student support advisers have caused. Some of the requirements are appropriate and should be maintained. Others are not. By allowing greater flexibility senior residents and student support advisers will be better able to perform their important pastoral roles. We see a good argument that the number of senior residents and student support advisers should be increased. A few years ago, changes to the appointment of senior residents greatly restricted the eligibility criteria to only include current students, excluding otherwise excellent senior residents who were either staff of the university or were employed elsewhere. We recommend considering whether this approach is appropriate.
Organisation of residences
While the University made good progress on this since its previous residences review, we believe more can be done to share administrative and other costs across the residences.
We can see some advantages of the management of residences’ pastoral teams being transferred from residential and hospitality services to student services.
The interests of students and residences are not best served by prioritising project management and administration solutions. It is telling that in the new model there is a slight increase in number of the most senior office-based administrators but there are almost three-quarters fewer on-site residential staff.
Residences themselves and the existing pastoral staff should be fully involved in developing improvements to the existing model. This is good practice in any business and ensures staff feel properly valued. The University should trust its wardens in particular to prioritise student welfare over any personal considerations: they all have substantive posts within the University and are not dependent on the warden roles for their livelihood. We believe systematic marginalisation of wardens over the last 2-3 years has been very noticeable, and it is highly counter-productive.
Supporting co-ordination between residences and with academic Faculties and Schools
Each of the residences has significant experiences and strengths and we believe there is merit in promoting greater collaboration among residences at all levelsso best practice is shared widely among residences staff.
We strongly believe that residences should work more closely with pastoral support networks at academic Faculties and Schools. The pastoral staff within residences do this regularly and it would greatly help their work to have regular and more effective means of communication for this. This will be particularly important in order to ensure the role of the school/departmental wellbeing officers is as meaningful as possible.
Proper support and encouragement should be given to academic staff within the University when taking on the roles within student residences. There is currently a culture in the RHS Division that regards academics as somehow suspect or troublesome.
Consider how best to attract and support the widest possible cross section of academic staff in order to best reflect the diversity and considerable talent across the University.
Need for truly professional support and investment
Professional counsellors should be involved in designing the best pastoral support for students in most acute need. We believe any solution can draw on the considerable depth of experience across the University’s academic staff and support within the Faculties and Schools.
In cases of the most acute need it is appropriate to have professional counsellors available at times when the usual services (Medical Centre, Counselling Service) are closed, recognising this can only be provided at some cost.
Better design of the review and consultation
The University’s governance bodies should all be fully involved in the proposed design and consultation phases of the pastoral review. This would be in marked contrast to the process that has been run up until now. Above all we would urge the Vice Chancellor and other senior academic staff to play a full role in the design and delivery of any new model.
While this is a lower priority than ensuring student welfare, we believe the University should consider carefully how best to engage its alumni and benefactors in the review. The University has very properly identified the potential of its benefactors to support the University’s expansion and the current proposals represent a significant risk of alumni and benefactors wishing to end their support for the University.