Exclusive: Proposed ResLife restructure leaves staff fearing for student well-being
By Josh Sandiford and Ethan Davies
University bosses are planning a controversial shake-up of ResLife which some staff fear could have a significant impact on student welfare.
The proposals, which would come into effect in September 2019, involve a major re-organisation of residential staff who support students in halls, with part-time staff shed and nine new full-time roles put in place.
Staff at the University of Manchester who are familiar with the proposed restructure have raised concerns about both student and staff well-being as a result of the plans. These would see ResLife staff living in with first years and potentially making them feel “uncomfortable” about their behaviour.
Similar proposals at the University of Bristol saw fierce student backlash, with students and staff also concerned about student well-being as a result of the plans.
Whilst critics say the changes have not been handled well, the University insists it has carried out a full consultation and that the reforms will make better use of resources.
ResLife advisors, typically postgraduate students or university staff members, will be scrapped in their current form and split up into ‘response’ and ‘engagement’ teams.
The new ‘engagement’ team will be made up of both undergraduate and postgraduate students, living-in with first years. The ‘response’ team will be made up of staff and postgraduates, responsible for ‘reactive issues and on-call service’.
University staff are understood to be deeply concerned about the plans, as the new ‘engagement’ team would no longer be living with fellow ResLife advisors.
Some are predicting this will lead to ResLife staff feeling isolated, unable to seek help from peers and therefore unable to support student welfare as effectively.
Despite the plan including an additional 33 part-time ResLife advisory roles, staff also believe that the new structure will significantly increase the workload of ResLife advisors which, when factoring in their additional study and work, will affect the level of pastoral care they can give.
It’s also believed that some staff have questioned the feasibility of the split. One staff member, who chose to stay anonymous, told The Mancunion that management implementing the plans are “repeatedly contradicting themselves” and “unable to define clear roles”.
They also accused ResLife bosses of “massive mismanagement”, both with the implementation of ResLife in 2016 and now with these new proposals. The Mancunion has seen emails sent by ResLife management, acknowledging that it is an “unsettling” time for current staff.
Another senior staff member told The Mancunion that whilst they appreciate ResLife management have adhered to strict HR regulations, they had not acted in a socially responsible way, calling it “terrible” that some staff will lose their jobs and their homes as a result of the restructure.
They added: “I love working in halls. I have a real passion and enthusiasm for it and give it my all. I am deeply saddened and hurt at the proposed changes, not just for me and colleagues, but for students [in halls] that may also be hit hard by these changes.”
Lejla Softic, a Biomedical Sciences student who serves as Senior Student of Hulme Hall said: “I think it’s not only unrealistic and irresponsible to implement the [restructure] that they’re proposing, but I think it actually exacerbates the problems they’re trying to solve.
“It further alienates residents from Reslife and should it go forward, it would also alienate the ‘engagement’ Reslife [team] from their peers.
“They’re trying to sell a structure that only has the potential to benefit large halls such as Oak House, and apply it as a “one-size-fits-all”. It would completely break down all the stable and beneficial structures in place in smaller scale halls, and it would be quite detrimental.”
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “The ResLife team is extremely important to students living in our Halls of Residences. It provides a vital service – helping students to access support services such as health and wellbeing, delivering events to develop a sense of community in each Hall, and responding to emergency situations outside of core office hours.
“The proposed changes are a result of extensive consultation with students and staff and would increase the full-time resource available to provide this important service, ensuring that our residents have the best possible experience.
“Recommendations include creating an additional nine dedicated full time residential positions to support student welfare in University Halls of Residence. This responds to pressures on current members of the team who fulfill a full time job at the University and are then required to spend evenings, weekends and night times providing student support.
“The need to address both the proactive and reactive elements of the service provided by ResLife Advisors is also recognised. These post-holders, who are undergraduates or postgraduates students, will be provided with full training for their roles supported by the new full time positions.”
An initial consultation with Campus Trade Unions and current ResLife post-holders about the restructure took place on the 11th of March, with a further consultation expected to take place sometime after the 8th of April.
Once the plans are finalised, the new ResLife Officer posts will then be advertised, with interviews for potential candidates commencing in late May.