Bristol University students reject plans to ‘eliminate pastoral teams in halls’

Bristol University has decided to remove a number of its live-in hall wardens, despite nine out of ten students voting against the move.

The reduction in the number of pastoral care helpers available in each hall of residence is being introduced as part of a new model of mental health care.

The new structure is intended to address the needs of students who want to see increased mental health support across the university.

An introduction of a ‘whole-institution’ approach will see a “re-shaping” of the current structure seeking to remove any “inconsistencies” in the current care system, according to Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady.

Concerns were raised last year during the consultation phase for the new model about the proposal to remove certain welfare staff, with senior residents claiming the changes would “risk students’ lives”.

Details of a new model have been published today which the University believes improves on the current system and will result in better overall pastoral care for students.

G.V's of Tyndall Avenue, Bristol.
There is disagreement between the University and student-led campaign group as to what changes should be made to pastoral care

However, the plans were rejected this morning in a statement from the student campaign group Keep Our Communities who say the role of wardens has been underestimated by the vice-chancellor and that a hasty and “chaotic implementation” of the new system will “see future students suffer”.

Despite this, the latest plans will see the university spend an additional £300,000 on pastoral care for their students, with Professor Brady saying the spend on pastoral care will increase from £2.6 million to £2.9 million.

Recommended changes are said to be based on the findings of an external review that was carried out last year, the feedback of staff and students and the study of best practice in other institutions and sectors and will include the introduction of a dedicated pastoral care team which will be on duty 24 hours a day providing care.

And despite axing wardens, who are made up of members of staff and oversee the senior residents, Bristol University says it is increasing the number of senior residents to 96 and employing 24 chief residents, made up of post-graduate students who were former senior residents.

There will also be 22 residential life advisors, who will work as a part of the Residential Life Team on duty all day, every day.

The number of pastoral care workers who will be full-time employees will also increase which the university say balances out the number of overall senior residents.

Professor Hugh Brady, vice chancellor of the University of Bristol
Professor Hugh Brady, vice chancellor of the University of Bristol

Campaigners with Keep Our Communities insist the new plans will reduce the amount of support available to students and claim the plans only pay “lip service” to the concerns raised by staff and students during the consultation period.

They highlight the fact that the number of academics who act as Wardens of which there are currently nine will be reduced to three across the University.

“Last week, 92.1% of voting students rejected any model for residences which would eliminate pastoral teams in Halls,” said Tom Phillips Co-Chair of Keep Our Communities.

“This has been completely ignored by the Vice-Chancellor and those responsible for the latest iteration of the proposed model,” he said.

“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.”

Vice-Chancellor Brady strongly disagreed with the campaign groups assessment of the new proposals. In an interview with the Bristol Post, he said: “We didn’t introduce these changes out of the blue.

“Referrals to mental health services has almost trebled in the past few decades so we are making a determined effort to get ahead of this and make sure our students have a consistent, full-time on duty system,” he added.

Student Halls Churchill Hall Stoke Park Road, Stoke Bishop, BS9 1JG
92.1 per cent of students are reported to have rejected the new model of pastoral care

The proposed changes come after six students from Bristol University are confirmed to have taken their own lives since the start of the last academic year. And at least one more student is believed to have taken his own life during this calender year.

Many students have spoken out against the changes by highlighting the crucial work done by hall wardens. One student said: “Were it not for a woman sitting in this room, I would not be standing here today.”

But the Vice-Chancellor insists that the new model will improve on the old system, pointing to the fact that the current live-in academics and student wardens are performing their role on top of their full-time jobs which means they are stretched and not always available to the people who need them most.

“Deputy Wardens are not in the halls during the day or on some weekends and evenings. Many students that have mental health problems are not able to motivate themselves to go to lectures and will typically be in the halls during the day. In the new model, there’ll be staff who will be on duty at all times and will be seen around the halls by these students.

“So, it will move away from a group of people who are really passionate but are expected to do a job that’s almost impossible to do because they can’t be there all the time,” he added.

The Wardens and Deputy Wardens as an entity will be replaced by chief residents and the new Residential Life Team. There will also be a new role of a senior academic tutor available to the team for more complex academic issues.

Bristol-based students spend on average £177 per week on rent, according to a new study (pictured: Orchard Heights)
Vice Chancellor Hugh Brady has said he believes social media has played a part in the increase of need for pastoral care in universities

In the new model there will be Senior Residents made up of students who work part-time as live-in peer mentors. There will be Chief Residents who will be made-up of senior post-graduates who have already been senior residents in the past. There will also be a full-time pastoral care team to provide support to the senior and chief residents as well as the students. For more complex cases the full-time team will be able to refer to the University’s counselling staff.

Vice-Chancellor Brady said they had taken on board feedback from students which clearly stated they should not compromise on cost as well as highlighting the important role Senior Residents play in universities halls of residence.

“Students said they mainly went to Senior Residents with any problems which is no surprise because it’s peer to peer, so we are strengthening that and making sure the SR’s have a team of people they can go to for support as well because we also have an obligation to care for theml,” said Vice-Chancellor Brady.

“We didn’t introduce these changes out of the blue” said Vice-Chancellor Brady

“As a University we are taking this very seriously and it’s artificial and dangerous to suggest otherwise. We have to recognise the world has changed particularly in the how mental health challenges is affecting our students. So, while we also recognise how important Senior Residents are to students but as a Vice-Chancellor of the University I’ve got to step back and say lets look at this logically and see where it is working and where changes need to be made.

“The wardens are fantastic but are doing an almost impossible job because they are part-time people who are facing unprecedented levels of mental health issues.

“I would say this is more of a re-shaping of the system and like in any system, there’s always a danger that students will end up slipping through the gaps and given the scale of the issue facing universities we can never guarantee it won’t happen,” he added.

“But, we have had an expert review of our whole system done and we have taken feedback from students and staff and also looked at best practice elsewhere in other universities and sectors to try and make an integrated and effective care system. That’s the priority for us and I am confident we now have the balance right.”

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