Heated scenes at University feedback meetings on new hall model
A student referendum is also set to be held
This week's open meetings on the proposed changes to pastoral care in halls saw a number of angry and emotional contributions from staff and students.
Held by the University to ascertain views on the proposed model by Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS), the Tuesday 23rd and Thursday 25th meetings were both packed out as dozens of attendees flocked in to hear the reasons for the proposed changes and make their feelings known.
Chaired by Bristol Debating President Luke Kosky, a panel comprised of Pro Vice-Chancellor Judith Squires, Director of Student Services Mark Ames, Director of RHS Simon Bray and Deputy Registrar, Lynn Robinson outlined how the new model would work before, with a speech by Student Living Officer Lucky Dube on the SU position.
On Tuesday, Professor Squires explained how the proposals aimed to deliver a "joined up Bristol model" and assured the continuation of student representation within halls. Ms Robinson added that it sought to "retain positive aspects of individual hall identity" whilst ensuring there were "consistent services" and a "suitably skilled residential lifestyle team". After a quarter of an hour outlining the model, the remaining 45 minutes were dedicated to hearing questions and thoughts from the floor.
On the Tuesday, there were a number of passionate contributions from the floor, with one Second Year student telling the room of her fears that a reduction of live in staff would endanger vulnerable students. She explained the difference her pastoral care team had made and that "without my Senior Resident living at the end of my corridor, I would not be here" to a round of applause. Another student criticised the reduction in the number of staff, explaining that they were there on behalf of their best friend who took their own life.
A similar incident occurred in the Thursday meeting when a former halls resident stood up to ask "What is the cost of a human life?" Ms Robinson replied that "If I thought this was putting human lives at risk then I would not be supporting it" to which the student interjected to ask "Well, why are you?" and to say that "If it was not for the intervention of a woman standing in this hall I would not be alive speaking right now".
The University staff emphasised just how seriously they took this issue, with Ms Robinson pointing out that they would not be implementing the proposals unless they thought it was the right thing to do. In response to a follow up question that asked "Are you just continuing to use students as guinea pigs?" she said that "I'm finding it personally very challenging to be accused of playing with students lives" and went on to say "The model that we announce next will have significant changes to it. It will certainly have greater resources within it and there may be other changes."
In response to a question at the Thursday meeting from a City Centre first year on Senior Residents, Mr Ames made clear that "we've had very strong feedback throughout this consultation process that we've really underestimated the number of students we need to employ in that role and we've heard that message loud and clear". Later on the issue of accessing mental health support, he noted the scale of the challenge facing Bristol "We have seen a 50% increase in students approaching student counsellor services in the second year alone" as part of a much broader societal trend of people coming forward, seeking help.
Elsewhere criticism centred on the consultation process, with one Tutor claiming on Thursday that "a lot of good will has been lost, a lot of people have been very upset" because "you're looking at the student survey that has 2% of the undergraduate population responding" which "any student in this room will tell you" is insufficient. In response Ms Robinson said that "We may not have communicated this as well as we should have" but that "I think we have followed the process we have originally intended" whilst Mr Bray outlined the various ways in which data was collected including one to one meetings and SU feedback.
In the same meeting, a senior academic in the sciences department said that"I've noticed that in the last month the new model is drifting towards the old model- could you explain what's wrong with the old model?" to widespread applause. Ms Robinson argued that there was a greater need for inclusivity and diversity in halls, that it was crucial to have an improved approach to student wellbeing and that it was "not sustainable" for part time staff to do the job given the scale of the issues. To this, the academic shot back "Additional funding and training, it's all they need".
The University have stressed they remain keen to ascertain opinions on the new model. The consultation on the proposals remains open until February 9th, with staff requesting feedback should be sent to [email protected] ahead of the model's final completion by 1st April.
In related hall news, The Tab can exclusively reveal that a 'Keep Our Communities' petition to reverse the Student Union position on the proposals has reached over 400 handwritten signatures in four days. The SU requires 367 names (1.5% of UoB students) for a referendum to be held on SU policy. Discussions will begin next week on the wording and the timing of a university wide plebiscite.