Open Letter from 67 Senior Residents to RHS

To Simon Bray,

We are writing to you to represent the Senior Residents across the University of Bristol. As a collective we are very concerned about the repercussions of the proposed changes to the welfare system. We have gone into detail below about what exactly we know poses significant risk to the wellbeing of our students. We would also like to point out in these early stages how clear it is to us that the management of student housing are unaware of the extent of work happening within the residences on a daily basis and the needs of our students. We have also taken the time to suggest alterations to the plan and request a more formal discussion of these issues at the earliest available opportunity.

1. Aims of the review

Having taken time to read through the aims of the welfare review we would like to make it clear that we acknowledge a review of the welfare system is essential at this stage. We agree with all of the following aims outlined by your review;

·      To provide an accessible and comprehensive student well being framework

·      To provide a student centered high profile and skilled student ‘life and wellbeing team’.

·      To foster and support diverse and inclusive communities

·      To provide a safe and supportive environment

·      To create a positive student experience and maximize value for money

·      To work in partnership with students, staff and local communities

We believe that the new plan won’t address the majority of these aims and in some instances will actually do the opposite for the student body. We also believe that another aim of cutting costs for the team is central to your decision making yet has been left from the list. We were all so pleased with the additional £1 million in funding that was given to the new student wellbeing services however now cutting £.8 million elsewhere it is clear that this was just to redirect attention rather than because you had any intention of improving mental health support at our university.

2. Senior Residents

We wish to start by addressing the role of the ‘residential life mentor’, as the new incarnation of the Senior Resident role we are best placed to discuss this.

Present and Approachable

The purpose of a senior resident as we were told in our training in September was to be the step up to formal support at the university. As students ourselves we are more approachable and can be easier to make contact with through informal channels. Equally due to our presence in halls students know us and don’t feel like they are calling a stranger when asking for help. We know from experience that the students most at risk often don’t think they are worth ‘formal support’ and will instead reach out to us or even ask for us specifically. It takes considerable effort to persuade students to go and speak to our ‘in house’ SSA let alone access formal support in the University building and in the city beyond. You stated in your research many students don’t know who their senior residents are, we fail to understand how reducing presence in hall is going to aid this.

Part of being in hall, in dining halls and working in study spaces means that we can see those students who are looking withdrawn, unhappy or have changed significantly in attitude. This means we pick up on issues before they escalate and this is invaluable in the welfare process.

Shift based system

Assuming that Senior Residents only average 12 hours a week (or less given you are cutting this team) is naive. As well as duty hours we do; administration including constant emails, kitchen meetings, fire drills, organizing JCR and sporting events, formals, attending student events, attending team meetings, talking to students as you pass them on a daily basis, social media upkeep. This doesn’t include checking in on and meeting students who are struggling sometimes on a daily basis. Even with half of this workload it can’t be done in two 5 hour shifts a week, particularly with a smaller team. The shift system also assumes that we work every week regardless of holidays, exams, dissertation deadlines etc. The current duty system allows us to continue our studies around this role in a far more flexible way.

It is also worth noting that this day-shift style approach will mean that us, as students, may regularly miss out on opportunities (e.g. societies or other commitments) whereas doing a one week shift every so often gives us the ability to organise around that, or miss out less regularly. Under our current system, we like to keep a tab on where the SRs are, and ensure we have at least a few staying in hall overnight at any given time, with the exception of national holidays, and if we are going to be stretched so thin next year will this even be possible to manage/maintain?

Due to the pressure of this job our team is currently made up of very dedicated senior residents who are not here for the money but because we care deeply about our students. We would never turn away a student who needed support, I doubt this would change dramatically under the new system. Taking advantage of good natured people in this way is unfair.

Summary

The new system;

·      Fewer RLMs in hall means far less likely that students will know who we are or will have any regular contact with us.

·      Being based in a hub means that when a student contacts us we won’t be able to meet with them immediately in emergency cases as we currently can.

·      Hubs off site alienate students from the wellbeing team and make us less approachable.

·      Depersonalisation of the system will lead to high risk and vulnerable students not reaching out. This is a life and death situation.

·      The shift system assumes that when students contact us outside of these hours we should turn them away once we have reached our allotted shift.

·      The shift system drastically underestimates the workload of SRs

·      The shift based system means RLMs will be financially worse off than currently but with more students that they are responsible for

3. Loss of Warden and Deputy Warden

As we know from this year and those before, the role of the warden/deputy warden is one that has been under immense pressure. Reducing this team down to 3 people who are responsible for the whole 1st year student body is ludicrous. There is not the time in the day to deal with that many students let alone keep up with the administration and strategic planning of the role. I am sure the warden team will have their own statements to make to this end. But we know from experience that without the constant support of the Wardens and Deputy Wardens you are directly risking the lives of our students.

You also claim in your documents that these 3 ‘Residential Life Managers’ will live ‘on site’ but given the size of the new area they cover this is an empty statement as our residences cover most of Bristol.

4. Residential Life Advisors

Your team of ‘residential life advisers’ replacing this system is problematic. Primarily because this team simply will not be visible to our students. They already find it hard enough speaking to Senior Residents that they see around their building on a regular basis, they are not going to want to speak to someone in an office who knows nothing about them or their environment. Due to the shift work nature of this role they also won’t have a consistent person that they can speak to on a regular basis as the person will be in the office at different times. Without any suggestion of how they can possibly catch each other up on all the events of their shift so that the next person can be ready for any emergencies you are creating an impossible role. Also you are seriously underestimating the relationships our current SSAs, Deputy Wardens and Wardens have with the students and how hard they have to work to build this. Without consistency you are alienating students and taking away any personal aspect of our welfare system. Furthermore, the know how to manage issues among students, or individual cases, will disappear with the drastic reduction of the team numbers.

The loss of this support system including the SSAs is going to make the job of the SRs far more difficult. We often refer to this team on a daily basis for advice and support. With nobody else in the building to consult with this job becomes far more challenging.

5. Further queries of the new system

Disciplinary

One of the key elements which is focused on within the review is that of striking a balance between pastoral and disciplinary. This seems to have been used as an excuse for cutting the SR role. It may have been highlighted as a challenge but it is not one we are incapable of, any teacher, professor or parents has to create this balance in their roles and whilst tricky it is not impossible.

Off Duty

You also highlighted that SRs had fed back that it is difficult to know when we are off duty. The new system does nothing to fix this. We may know when we are on duty but it doesn’t mean that we will ignore students. It also doesn’t look at the many elements of the role and how those hours would be accountable.

Diversity and Inclusivity

You have made a big point of making changes to diversity and inclusivity within our teams, which is a fundamental change that we agree must be made. There are no tangible suggestions as to how the new structure will change this.

Safe and Supportive environment

You point out that this new system will create a safe and supportive environment, however you are taking away most of the in house team in favour of a less personal, less accessible team. So in fact you are doing the exact opposite.

Events

You are suggesting that going forward events will be planned by a team external to the building who have no knowledge of the students in that specific building and therefore will presumably need to consult with the RLMentors. Will this factor into their 12 hours of work? How can this team be responsible for building the community of the students without being accessible to them or knowing them due to being off site.

Value for Money

You have suggested that the new system works out as better value for money of £120 per bed space which works out at roughly £2.50 per week. It is unclear whether this saving will be directly to students or for the university. Either way for £2.50 per week less you are taking away the students accessible support system. It seems to us we are getting far greater value for money currently than the new system would provide.

Loss of Jobs

This new system sees the loss of jobs to a minimum of 70 staff members. Many of whom are students who will have factored in this employment as part of their studies and will have to reconsider whether they can afford to continue their studies. These roles were proposed as an enhancement opportunity for students which will no longer exist. For those of us under Tier 4 visas, the hours needed for this new role will eat into the 20 h/week permitted under the terms of our visas. This will affect those of us who work outside our degrees and as part of pastoral teams. This therefore also goes against the wish to increase Diversity within the pastoral team, since it compromises the ability of international students to conduct the RLM role. Such SRs have always been an incredibly positive force within halls in supporting first year international students, because they can relate to problems that these students face in a very personal sense.

6. Faults with the process

The process has placed a lot of weight on the elements of a survey that suit the ideas that were already had by the team. We all know as students that surveys are a largely flawed way to gather data and without consulting members from across the team in a more real way you have essentially boxed us out of the process.

When speaking to a fellow SR they suggested the survey didn’t allow SRs to fully describe the issues in hall We had a survey of 6 broad questions and a tick box of 3 pre-defined answers, leaving us no opportunity to actually express our opinions (for example, we had to choose between "we do this currently", "we try but are under-resourced", and "we don't do this"). It feels like we received this "survey" so they can say they included us in the process, but it really has been a formality or tick box exercise for the seniors overseeing the review.”

The time with which we have been given to respond seems underhand. I know that in the meeting Simon said that there was literally no other time or this to be done, however this could have been done sooner, we could have been kept informed, changes could be postponed until 6 months or even a year later to ensure the safety of our students. Most students are away and participating in exams and won’t have the chance to respond to such a plan backing us into a corner. It has also come to our attention through a leaked email that you had no intention of actually hearing our feedback in this ‘consultation’ period.

From what we experienced at the meeting and in these documents it seems to us that the staff who have been responsible for making these decisions are unaware what happens in halls, this suggests to us a more pressing problem as they are undervaluing their current team. I believe that it wasn’t until December 20th that Simon Bray actually requested to see the incident reports for the halls, suggesting he among others have no concept of what is going on in halls and haven’t even thought to ask until now.

7. Suggestions Alterations

We acknowledge that the current welfare system is flawed and under pressure to the point where it is unsustainable. We know that we need additional funding and additional support in the form of;

·      In house admin support for SSAs

·      In house events support for SSAs

·      Extensive Mental Health training for ALL members of the team

·      Clinical supervision for ALL members of the team dealing with serious cases

·      In house counsellors for our students

·      Relief support for Wardens and Deputy Wardens who are overworked.

This system is not broken it is just under immense pressure, we should be improving it by funding the additional support our students need and showing that we value the needs and wellbeing of our students. Rather than creating a whole new system we have no evidence for.

If you choose not to listen to the suggestions of those on the ground working with students on a daily basis, we beg you to reconsider going university wide with this plan in September. Trial it with a handful of halls for the first year, gather feedback and reassess this time next year. As Senior residents who care about their students, we cannot in all good conscience sit back and risk the wellbeing, experience and lives of our future students in order that you can save £.8 million. Particularly when the university is £300 million pounds on the new Temple Meads campus.

8. Our requests going forwards

·      We require an honest response to all of our concerns that do not patronize or condescend including valid justification for the changes you are proposing.

·      We require six of our senior residents (elected by us) to have a sit down meeting with the team to discuss our concerns further

·      We require you to postpone your final decision making until such a time when all the senior residents are back for term and can be included in the feedback process.

Yours truly,

 

1.    Ella Fraser

2.    Julio hermosilla

3.    Grace Kendrick

4.    Nathan Doorly

5.    William A. Awad

6.    Kimberley Thirlwall

7.    Charlotte Royle

8.    Michael Sweeton

9.    Witek Szeremeta

10. Astrid L. Blee

11. Ben Grove-White

12. Joshua Buxton

13. Duygu Cavdar

14. Andrew Paterson

15. Benjamin Smith

16. Margaret Andrews

17. Briony Patricia Edwina Forsberg

18. Oliver Ramsey

19. Aaron McCormick

20. Jonathan Stacey

21. Emily Singh

22. Peter Relph,

23. Grace Sellers

24. Neema Begum

25. Ryan Pugh

26. Michael Lim

27. Chenguang,Wang

28. Cait Houlbrook

29. Oluwatobiloba Ade-Odiachi

30. Sarah North

31. Isidora Shandulovska

32. Chanelle Lee

33. Anatoly Koptelov

34. Michael twitchen

35. Liam Ryan

36. Dominik Morton

37. Magda Mogilnicka

38. James Harris

39. Marina Galetaki

40. Abhishek Gautam

41. James Watts

42. Kaviraj Singh Khurana

43. Whitney General

44. Kirsten Westmoreland

45. Joanne Abiodun

46. Nicola Young

47. Dulce Rodriguez

48. Ian Rodney

49. Rory Hill

50. Thomas Robb

51. Ging Pang

52. Joshua Roberts

53. Sophie Latham

54. Andrew James

55. Abi Gartner

56. Giulia toti

57. Georgina Stan

58. Diego Desendiz

59. Zebedee Pearce

60. Mubaraka Muchhala

61. Chuka Agboeze

62. Josh Robbins

63. Codrin Popa

64. Eleanor Garner

65. Beatrice Paterson-Achenbach

66. Jack Alderton

67. Dominic Clark

A further 7 senior residents wanted to sign, unfortunately they feared this would risk their jobs jeopardising their chances to complete their degrees’.