Residential Life (ResLife) Officers and their Deputies are to be scrapped this summer, The Mancunion has learned.
The news comes just weeks after the proposed restructure to ResLife was delayed by a year, pending further consultation with University staff.
This could effectively mean those ResLife Officers (RLOs) and Deputy ResLife Officers (DRLOs) in post currently could be left without housing by the end of summer. They will be replaced by ten ResLife Co-Ordinators (RLCs), which will all “be open ended positions”, employed by the University.
The RLCs will not follow the same system as RLOs and DRLOs did, whereby each Hall had their own RLO/DRLO. Instead, the ten RLCs will share the responsibilities of looking after the 17 Halls between them.
In a document explaining the changes to ResLife staff seen by The Mancunion, the University confirmed the RLCs’ “hours of work will not be fixed in order to ensure that they are available to support our students as and when required”.
The RLOs and DRLOs replaced the wardens and deputy wardens in the summer of 2016, in an effort to standardise the way pastoral care is delivered in Halls.
The document also confirmed the end of NRLAs – Non-Residential Life Advisors.
The original restructure proposals outlined plans to have ‘engagement’ ResLife staff, who could have been made up of both undergraduate and postgraduate students, living-in with first years.
This drew fears from current ResLife staff that undergraduate engagement staff could be overwhelmed by the support needs of first-year students, pointing to the fact that they could be as young as 19, and in some cases younger than the very students they are meant to support.
The document additionally addresses concerns of older Halls’ staff, who feared the changes would bring to an end their unique customs and cultures, by saying: “Each catered hall will have a named RLC and/or member of the senior Res Life Team associated with it and there will be an expectation that this individual participates in the wider life of the hall as appropriate”.
Alongside this, the document says the University will launch a pilot of ‘SafeZone App’ from September 2019:
“This allows for students to ‘check in’ with someone 24/7 across campus areas quickly and discretely call for assistance. This will also ensure the University can keep students up to date as it received notifications in case of an incident”.
The document also reveals that it is “in advanced discussions to implement an online out of hours mental health support service from this from September 2019”.
Additional training is also hinted at for staff.
At the final edition of SU Senate, members voted to consult with the University over the plans, rather than oppose ‘all’ changes as was originally proposed.
Robert Boddy, who proposed the original motion and Chair of the St Anselm’s JCR, said: “I think it’s very unfortunate the direction the University is going down. Not only are they losing a wealth of experience of people who have been living and working in halls but they are changing the role of ResLife from something that people sign up to voluntarily, something they do to contribute to student communities, to just an ordinary job.
“Much of what made ResLife successful was that the people in RLO and DRLO positions had experiences outside of halls, such as being academic or administrative staff, that enabled them to give better care to students in halls. With these changes I’m not sure that the care will be quite the same quality.
“There was a clear voice from students, staff, and alumni that there were major concerns about these changes but obviously the University has gone ahead with them anyway.”
Shamima Khonat, SU Communities, Citizenship, and Campaigns Officer, said: “The SU does support the change to full time residential life positions. We received the news late last week that they have decided to increase the amount of these positions to 10. This is great news for the SU and we think this will benefit students. However, we need to ensure the staff members recruited are able to build a rapport with students.
“We are aware the RLA changes have been put on hold until 2020. This gives us more time to influence Brendon [Jones, ResLife Manager]. We’ll be speaking to him again to see where the discussions are at and relaying the feedback we’ve received through working in collaboration with stakeholders.”
When asked if the end of RLOs meant some staff would be effectively left homeless in August, a University of Manchester spokesperson said: “RLOs and DRLOs have been offered three options in relation to their accommodation. We will continue to work with the team to ensure they are able to source appropriate accommodation. Whilst their contracts will end on August 31st the options offered allow for extensions in relation to their accommodation to either end of December 2019 or end of March 2020.
“The proposed changes to SRLAs and RLAs have been postponed with further consultation and focus groups being planned with a view to making any proposed changes for September 2020 intake.”