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Bristol University unveils revised model for pastoral care in halls of residence

The biggest changes to halls in UoB history


Last night Bristol University announced its new structure of student support in residences, following a two month consultation on the original model announced in December 2017.

The posts of hall Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Student Support Advisers (SSAs) are still set to be abolished but Senior Residents will now be retained, following student disquiet at attempts to replace this post with 54 new Residential Life Mentors. At present there are around 150 Senior Residents in Bristol's halls. Under the new model, there will be 96 alongside 24 'Chief Residents' serving as the senior peer mentor within each residence. However the current 75 per cent rent reduction is set to be replaced by a paid wage of around £10 per hour for 12 hours per week.

A range of new positions are set to be created in each of the three 'Residential Villages' in Clifton, Stoke Bishop and the City Centre. Each of these will be led by a Head of Residential Life and a Deputy, with a Senior Academic Tutor providing "academic mentoring and complex academic support". Each 'Village' will have a Residential Experience Coordinator to foster links between the SU and JCRs, as well as seven or eight Residential Life Advisers responsible for both community building and student wellbeing.

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All Bristol students either received a brochure or an email on the changes

In a hour long briefing with The Tab yesterday, Vice Chancellor Hugh Brady denied the debate was between hubs and halls, commenting "it's a whole institution approach", in which "identity of halls stays, JCRs definitely stay, the role of Senior Residents affirmed". Commenting on last week's landslide referendum in which students voted to change the SU's position to oppose 'hubs', Professor Brady argued the 'debate' between halls vs. hubs was fundamentally misleading. "For me, that's trying to impose on me an artificial divide. This is why I keep coming back to the whole institutional model. It would be a bit like holding a vote on whether it was going to be GP service based", and asked "why would you hold a referendum on a consultation document? Seems strange to me."

Despite praising the work of Wardens he contended: "We have to move to a team of 24/7 cover, of people whose core remit is pastoral care of students and who come from a background where they have experience in that area", and who will then undergo "professionalised training" once they have been appointed. Asked if early identification of students at risk would be harder with less Senior Residents in halls, Professor Brady replied: "I don't think so because it again comes back to that induction, training, role definition. Others do it and they do it really well and they do it by approaching it in that type of way."

The changes are set to be the biggest in Bristol's history

Of Residential Life Advisers he said: "Part of the perception was that these would sit in an office but their job is to be out and about", whilst Experience Coordinators are set to be introduced because "when we looked at some other Russell Group universities, they've over twice as many events in their residential villages as we have".

Responding to cost cutting claims, Professor Brady said: "That was never the intention", and that "what we will end up spending in the residential villages and pastoral care will now be increased, there will be no savings, it will be higher than the current model… we'll be up there in the top 1-2 per cent of the sector because we've got comparisons". A UoB spokesman later added that the cost of the current model in residences is £2.6 million per year, with the revised model costing £2.9 million.

Asked if the energy being spent on this new model could be better directed to tackling the bottlenecks for counselling services, Brady replied: "I think you've got to do both", contending that a University-wide model would best resolve this issue. As for concerns that unsociable shift patterns and emotional stresses would lead to high turnover in Residential Life Advisers, he argued: "I wouldn't be that pessimistic, I would have thought these were really attractive roles". '

An Expert Advisory Group of around 7-10 regional and national experts is set to be set up in the next two weeks to advise on implementation and monitoring of the new model. Recruitment is set to begin in April ahead of the model's implementation in time for the new academic year in September.

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'Keep Our Communities' responded less than favourably to the proposals

Commenting on the news, student run campaign group 'Keep Our Communities' issued a statement last night which argued that Residential Villages were merely hubs by a more attractive name. They said: "Last week, 92.1 per cent of voting students rejected any model for residences which would eliminate pastoral teams in Halls. This has been completely ignored by the Vice-Chancellor and those responsible for the latest iteration of the proposed model.

"It is clear that the Vice-Chancellor continues to underestimate the role of Wardens, Deputy Wardens (DWs) and Student Support Advisors (SSAs) in supporting students and building communities… Additionally, the proposed model crucially fails to address how Senior Residents (SRs) will have the time to engage in community building activities and fulfil their pastoral care duties whilst on a shift-based system, working approximately 10 hours per week. This problem becomes even more profound given that the final tally of SRs in the revised model remains vastly inadequate."

"Although the University has done lip service to some of the responses of students and staff, it remains the case that poor research has been conducted, no risk analysis has been completed, extensive holes remain in their plans, and the whole model is to be rushed through by September. It is baffling how a change of this scale has not been more rigorously evidenced. Their haste will result in a chaotic implementation which will see future students suffer."

An open meeting is set to be held on this model today between 5-6 in the Wills Memorial here.