Confirmed: Wardens set to be axed in the biggest hall changes in Bristol’s history
100 Senior Residents are expected to go also
A major review into pastoral care at Bristol University’s halls concluded on Monday that many important student support positions are set to be replaced, or abolished, in time for the 2018/2019 academic year.
As predicted by The Tab Bristol a fortnight ago, these changes are set to include the removal of Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents within halls. Following a briefing with Simon Bray, the Director of Residential and Hospitality Services, The Tab can confirm that from September 2018 pastoral care will be delivered predominantly through a new model of 'hubs' in Stoke Bishop, Clifton and the City Centre.
At present in halls there are around 150 Senior Residents and 14 Student Support Advisers, alongside 12 Wardens and their equivalent Deputies. Under the new model, there will instead be a 'Residential Life Service', with each of the three hubs set to have one Residential Life Manager, one Residential Life Administrator, five Residential Life Advisers and around a third of the 54 student Residential Life Mentors.
Two of the five Advisers will be on duty at any one time, except for the hours between 8am to midday. Each hall is set to have 2-3 Mentors each, in place of around 6-10 Senior Residents who live there now. In a break with the current model the mentors will be the only staff to live in with students.
The recommendations follow an 18-month long review during which the university has witnessed four confirmed suicides, and the announcement of a new Temple Meads campus as part of a university expansion, from around 6,000 beds in UoB residences to roughly 10,000.
RHS have claimed the new system will lead to a more professionalised service. However according to one of the Wardens who attended their presentation last week, the Deputy Registrar went on record as saying the word "professional" is not appropriate to describe the new body of staff.
Whilst all staff recognise the need for change, there are significant misgivings about whether such a radical replacement of the halls system is preferable to reforming the current one. Cost has been an important factor in these proposed changes. Simon Bray told The Tab Bristol: "At that same time as the benchmarking, it wasn’t just qualitative information we were after, we also did look at the finances and it quickly became quite apparent that our provision was quite a bit more expensive when you look at it per bed space ."
RHS contend any savings made will be due to fewer lost rent opportunities because of the reduced presence of live in staff. However, there are widespread fears that service provision will inevitably be affected by a less visible and permanent pastoral presence in halls.
According to student feedback in the Divisional Review, Bristol halls currently foster a good sense of community. By shifting to hubs and cutting the ratio of live-in SRs/Mentors from 1:45 to 1:100, many hall staff are concerned residents will be far less likely to know, trust or speak to personnel in the new system. At present, a lot of SRs are familiar with all of their 35-45 charges. Many of these SRs doubt whether that would still be possible under the new system. In Durdham for instance, SRs pride themselves on holding meetings every week or two with each flat that they have students in.
Another controversial change could be the potential closure of some hall bars, with Mr Bray telling The Tab: "We have 12 hall bars, most of them run at a huge loss… Are we going to get rid of all hall bars? No we’re not. Are we going to consult with students on what they want for the future? Yes we are, absolutely".
Junior Common Rooms (JCRs) could be replaced as well, with Mr Bray informing this outlet: "In relation to JCRs, first of all we are proposing that there is a representation group, very similar remit to JCRs. JCRs are obviously very much hall centred so whether they exist in its current format, that is one thing that we haven’t decided upon."
Opposition to the changes
A petition has already been created in protest to these changes. First year Leonardo De Rezende created the "Stop abolition of Wardens and SRs" appeal last week after reading about the proposed changes on The Tab Bristol. It has already attracted over 650 signatures, with 300 names being added since the changes were announced at 10am Monday.
It seems unlikely Bristol Students' Union will offer any opposition to the changes. Commenting on the news, Lucky Dube, Student Living Officer, said: "Bristol SU welcomes the review of the Residential Life model within the Division of Residences and Hospitality Service. We believe the proposed changes are a sensible response to feedback and research gathered from our students."
An emergency Hall Advisory Committee meeting has been scheduled in January for students to respond to these changes, whilst several staff have been talking to their union representatives about the legal position of hall Wardens, Deputy Wardens, SSAs and SRs.
It remains to be seen how these reforms will affect students living in halls in the current academic year. RHS have told incumbent staff they are welcome to reapply for the new jobs.
Mr Bray told The Tab: "We want to retain many of these people", as "there is that huge understanding of the nuances of running a halls accommodation". However many are unwilling or unable to stay on owing to the different duties entailed in the new posts.
A number of staff have already been offered new positions elsewhere or are set to have jobs interviews in the next month. One Warden told The Tab: "The rats are leaving the sinking ship."
The university is requesting initial feedback should be sent to staff using the following email address by 1st February, ahead of the model's final completion by 1st April: