Jock's Backroom Blog

Views from the Backroom, and the Classroom, at Oxford Brookes University

Archive for the 'Halls of Residence' Category

So farewell then, Morals Bar

Posted by Jock Coats on 26th February 2012

At the beginning of this semester, about a month ago now, the Students’ Union invited us to “celebrate” twenty years’ service to the community of, first, Morrell Hall, and latterly Clive Booth Student Village, by Morals Bar by announcing it was to close permanently at the end of this semester. I decided at the time not to write an outraged post or try to form a campaign myself to persuade them otherwise because I was heartened that within a few days of that announcement a group of students resident in one of the old Morrell Hall blocks had been to the union’s management and had been told that if they got a campaign together there was a chance that it could be saved.

Well, now that SU elections are underway, a further email from the union management in recent days seems to make clear that this has never been a possibility. It simply repeats the news that the bar has about eight weeks left to live with no apparent chance of either reprieve nor discussion about what might happen in there in the future. So I am now ready to be outspokenly outraged about this news. All the more so as it appears that our students were either misinformed or misunderstood that their efforts might achieve some change.

I have been here, and regularly visiting Morals bar, for nearly sixteen years now. The SU probably would not have even realised the place was twenty years old this year had I not mentioned it would be nice to do something to mark it: I didn’t mean to terminate it.  There have been times when I have wondered whether it might save the university money, and me tax, just to transfer a portion of my wages direct to the students union block grant and give me a tab there! I have seen much more than a bunch of bean counters possibly can know about how it has worked, and why it hasn’t. And as I sit here of an evening enjoying a Coke with my evening meal, I hear more about what what other students appear to want from their conversations at tables next to me than any management or representative committee can guess from focus group meetings or surveys.

Morals Bar c. 1995

First, a timeline, because frankly I don’t suppose many in the union, or even the university, know much about the history of the place. When I arrived here Morals Bar had been the Student Union’s largest entertainment/club night venue since it had opened in 1992. On Gipsy Lane, they had had what is now the Galliano/Galaxy Lounge as a club area and other parts of the ground floor of the Sinclair building for its bars. The Gipsy Lane venue had its main late license night on a Saturday and so Morals had a very successful night on the Friday night (which was seen as the more lucrative club night anyway).

The year I arrived, Brookes had taken control of the Headington Hill Hall site and the Pergamon Press print works building, which enabled the Student Union to have a venue of over a thousand in capacity, and with it they applied for and got the lucrative Friday night late license. So Morals main night reverted to the Saturday, in the guise of a hugely successful branded night called “Glam”.

Glam was successful for many years. Every Saturday at half past seven the Entz team would have to kick out half the capacity of the bar in order to count them back in and by the official Glam start time of eight in the evening there wold regularly be a queue that left us immediately one-in-one-out and continued that way right through till last entry at one on the Sunday morning. Throughout this successful period it must be remembered that the hall on which Morals was sited had only 450 residents, compared with today’s nearly 1700.

Not only was Glam on a Saturday extremely successful but a student DJ organised Friday night called Feedback, playing Indie music for those not so keen on the contemporary dance night up at the new Helena Kennedy Center thousand plus capacity venue, was also a very successful evening, with Morals often well over half full (and indeed when the HKSC venue was full many came down to Feedback anyway as an alternative, whatever their taste in music).  At the same time the then new Vice Chancellor, who lived for a short while in the “Steel Framed House” just opposite Morals bar, lent his support to an application for further 2am licences (at the time much to my chagrin indeed as I felt the level of noise we experienced from a full club on a Friday and Saturday would be inappropriate on a student residence site in midweek). When I questioned Graham about this, he stated that we should do everything we could to ensure the commercial success of the union to bolster the block grant.

However, the capricious decision to axe two popular nights – Playground (for which most weeks people queued round the block on a Monday morning to ensure tickets for the following Friday) at the main venue and Glam at Morals and replace them with Peachy and Blitz was puzzling at the time, but for both venues it was, in effect, the beginning of the end.  Numbers attending the main venue declined precipitously and Blitz was never as successful as Glam from the beginning.  In reaction the union decided it was the fault of the fabric of the main venue and spent a lot of capital trying to glitz it up.  But it was the underlying decision to rebrand the main nights that was at fault and no amount of capital expenditure was going to undo that loss of goodwill.  Auditors rightly recognised this after the event and said the expenditure would have to be written off as trade was not sufficient to depreciate it normally, and the decision to end all bar trading was effectively made.  Morals has, if anything, simply had a couple of years of stay of execution, with no attempt to promote it, or return to Glam or even any discussion about how the space might be used differently.  Simply abandoned.

So yes, the licensed trade can be vicious: club nights are fickle and represent a risk, especially if you have people, elected for a short period, who think they know better than the status quo that is successful and exists, and who go on to throw good money after bad decisions.  That is what is unsustainable.  And so it has proven.  But that has fitted in quite nicely with the now prevailing view amongst university management.  Club nights were a reputational risk to the university.  Much local dissatisfaction with the university as a neighbour was focussed on the club nights and much university time and effort put in to try and address the local aftermath of these rather than perhaps more directly relevant university issues.  The bars had to go.

However we now have the strange situation in which the university feels it is worth providing a social space in the new Postgraduate centre (cynics might suggest it’s really only for the summer conference trade rather than truly a space for the “middle common room” to make its own and that is certainly reflected in the management of the place as a pristine and therefore not very welcoming environment), but is closing down the previously successful venue at the heart of what is now a hall of 1700 residents, and neither university nor Student Union management appear to want to talk about what, if anything, should go there in the future.  All the previous arguments about why a university should provide some social facilities onsite swept away: about having safe spaces in which young undergraduates can socialise (not the same thing as social learning spaces) without having to go too far, arrange an entire night out, book specially spaces that require people to kick us out of otherwise grim, empty, evening spaces in the university at a certain time.

And here’s the rub: it is all very well saying that Oxford’s night life offers everything a student could want, but it is qualitatively different.  They separate the social from the university.  It forces people to decide to make an effort to “go out”, rather than be able to pop in for a couple of drinks in the middle of coursework (some even like to do their work sometimes in the bar so they have a change of scene, and a chance to see people passing through rather than be isolated in the study-bedroom.  They force societies to book spaces where no other footfall might attract passing interest: the union may tout the use of the “Lounge” and “Venue” for society events, but they are, frankly, a little like organising a night in an otherwise empty community centre.

To have a “scholastic community” is more than to have a day time, pristine, sterile set of multi-purpose teaching and learning buildings.  Where is the “common room”?  The university has all but done away with the staff common room too of course in which people from different disciplines mix, quite casually, but network, overhear what’s going on in other parts of the university and so on.  I wonder how many academic collaborations have been sparked by casual networking and conversation in the common room or bar?  I doubt it’s a coincidence that college high table, hall and common room chats afterwards are still an important part of life “down the hill”.  Well, some careful thought into what could replace Morals in what was, after all, a purpose built communal facility building (even though designed so that it could be converted into lecture rooms), could show the way.

I take it as a given, though reluctantly as I don’t really believe the stated “competition” reasons, that there is no longer a possibility of filling the 550 capacity venue as a bar alone, trading at a profit.  Part of its problem indeed has been that because it was first and foremost a bar, it has only opened at “drinking times”.  It has never been available, properly, for day time social use.  If the building itself were seen genuinely as the heart of the hall, a place where people could take some work during the day, maybe get a coffee or some food (even out of one of those modern vending machines if necessary, though 1700 residents out to be sufficient to justify a proper, staffed, catering offer along the lines of Eights at Wheatley) and perhaps have a bar opened during the evening for a while in addition, I’ll bet it would get better use, not be taken for granted as simply a single function bar and place to watch the rugby on February weekends.

The space indeed could be divided up, with a smaller area as a bar room, that could be fully secured to allow for more casual day time, in fact 24/7, use of the rest of the spaces, and still have a place to go in the evenings and at weekends without having to arrange a whole night out.  Where societies can have events without worrying about being thrown out at a particular time, and where casual passers’ by might see something going on and look in, maybe changing their lives completely in the process by introducing them to something they’re never even going to look for on a societies notice board or Facebook page.  The ease with which a new group can spring up amongst undergraduates at Oxford must surely partly be down to the ease with which they can simply grab a space in a college and meet up and have a couple of drinks after a guest speaker to continue the conversation.  Organising to hold student arts events in local pubs and clubs is not the same as having a safe space to mess around with in the relative privacy of a university venue.  Not everyone is ready for the big stage, or even the “Backroom at the Bully”, or can compete with more professional offerings in such competitive venues.  It increases the difficulty of arranging such an event, possibly to the point where it simply won’t happen.

One person.  Only one, talks about discussing the future of Morals in their Student Union election manifesto.  A few more seem to want a venue or even return to some form of a union as nightclub.  But for the union to have known about the impending doom of Morals bar for over two years now and not to have taken steps to involve its members in a discussion of what future it might have after its life as a large but increasingly empty club venue is disappointing to say the least.  A university is about more than nice classrooms and nights out in town.  If it is to be a 24/7 scholastic community some consideration needs to go into spaces other than on the main campus where that can happen.  Every hall should have a social/social learning space for when study bedrooms become oppressive or people just want to get out of the flat for a while without organising a night out.  The added value of making casual connections and networking outside of classroom hours is a core part of what a “scholastic community” ought to be encouraging.

The demise of Morals seems to suggest it is not even on the agenda.  And if one takes the view that our future students may well be paying for their experience for half the rest of their lives, for as long as they are paying for their home, it ought to be on the agenda.  We can’t just subcontract everything outside teaching and learning to the Cowley Rd.

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Electrifying day in halls

Posted by Jock Coats on 19th February 2012

After a short power outage on the Morrell Hall part of the Clive Booth site on Friday evening, for an hour, many of us awoke to find the power cut off on Saturday again.  Friday’s had been a short lived affair – just an hour or so.  But it soon became clear that Saturday’s outage was going to be a much more serious affair.  Scottish and Southern had had a major outage well outside Brookes’s campuses as it turned out, and this time it knocked out all of Clive Booth Student Village, all of Headington Hill Hall Campus, and all of the Cheney Student Village site including the Brookes Centre for Sport, and apparently around 1,000 local homes.

Initially, SSEPD had estimated everything would be back on within two to three hours, and, sure enough the N-X and Postgraduate bits of Clive Booth, which are fed from the Marston Rd mains and are separate from the old Morrell site and the rest fed from the Headington Rd mains, came back on at about 13:00 on Saturday.  Then, ominously, we got messages from the power company that there may be some addresses to which power would not be restored until “evening”, then that it might be restored between about 20:00 and midnight.

This would have meant between nine and thirteen hours between losing power and reconnection.  Not, you would think, a total tragedy, but it is amazing just how reliant we are on sound electricity distribution.  We knew we were likely to be without ethernet as most of our site is fed through one of the affected blocks.  So there was very little we could do about that but hope everything rebooted nicely when power was eventually restored.  But who knew that in modern three storey buildings we are no longer operating on mains pressure water, for instance?  That all the water supplies are pumped into the buildings by, yes, electric pumps.  Even potable, drinking, albeit only cold stuff that could, theoretically, come from a three or four bar mains pressure to feed buildings of three storeys.

In institutional buildings, indeed probably anywhere with communal hallways and stairways, it is routine now to find battery backed emergency lighting.  But of course we discovered that that has a finite life (not really a surprise!), so by the time dusk came all of those were also off (it’s clearly not as simple as saying “can’t they only go on when it’s dark” because it *is* dark in windowless corridors and so on all day) and the place was in pitch blackness (thanks to student residents also who did not resort to candles which might have increased the potential risks of incident much further under such conditions).  The internal phone system went too in the affected blocks, whether straight away or after batteries ran out I don’t know – I’m not sure whether the student bedrooms are on IP telephony but previously we also had at least one internal old fashioned phone in each flat we could have used, under battery backup, for several hours, I think.

Fortunately, when SSEPD said 20:00 they meant it.  Our estates people had been on to them during the day quite a lot stressing that we had up to 1300 student residents stuck, many without water and all without light and heat, and they had set themselves a deadline of 20:30 to get everything reconnected or to install a generator backup supply on the most affected sites.  So well done to SSEPD for getting it all back on at about half seven.  And well done to the Brookes estates teams for getting onto site quickly after that to ensure that pumps, boilers and so on had started up again correctly.  I had also taken some steps to escalate knowledge of the outage to the heads of student services and estates, in case we needed to think about contingency plans (though it would indeed have been a very major operation to make alternative arrangements for so many people).

If there’s any big lesson to be learned from this it would have to be, in my opinion, how we get news to so many people to keep them in touch with what’s happening, and to inform them about possible alternative facilities (like drinking water, loos capable of flushing and with lights to see in).  A year or so back I set up a bunch of Twitter accounts for Clive Booth as a whole and for each block individually, but they’ve never been used much.  Maybe this is the spur that we need to start using such technologies.  If they can organise revolutions, then surely they can get information out to at least sufficient numbers of people such that word of mouth can take over from there.  The most depressing (and at times it has to be said irritating) thing yesterday was having to repeat the same message to so many people calling in to try and find out what was going on and what the prognosis was.  We may not have much to tell people, but at least we could keep people in touch with what we do know and what we are planning by way of contingencies if necessary.

Oh, and my iPad with 3G was a saviour.  With few people onsite with network connectivity, and certainly none in the hall office, it was the only way, without constantly pestering people who were no doubt already under a lot of pressure from estates, to keep in contact with news from SSEPD and so on and to fire off emails when we couldn’t contact some people by phone.  Though this would have been of course much more difficult had the entire site been out of power for the whole time – phones, iPads and so on needed charging to keep going.

I very much hesitate to ask “what would they have done without me” but clearly my knowledge of how so many bits of the site work gained over years here was important in being able to explain to people why certain things weren’t working and when they could expect them back and what alternatives we might be able to offer.  I am even able to tell some of the maintenance guys a thing or two about how things work down here, such as the rather bizarre loo flushing system in our newer blocks that was still off this morning.

In OBIS we are striving to ensure that nobody is the fount of all knowledge about a particular service, in case that person is incapacitated or simply not around at the time the knowledge is needed.  Hopefully we can get some kind of knowledge base, accessible to the people who need it (i.e. not just those working to fix problems but those who have to deal with the residents/customers/users while they are not working), when they’re stuck without even the basic systems needed for most such facilities to function, for such a large and diverse site as ours, built over forty years and with several different ways of doing any one thing as the technologies have changed over those years.

But huge thanks and credit must go to Tom, Colin, John, Steve and no doubt others in estates I’m not aware of for ensuring everything was back as soon as possible, to Gary and H for checking it to ensure we were all okay and “back to normal” as well as to “higher ups” like Keith and Richard whom I disturbed on a weekend evening just so they were aware of possible issues, and to the likes of the Networks and Telecoms teams for systems that proved resilient and didn’t need intervention once power was restored.  And of course, down here, to all the wardens and hall assistants who had to deal with the real human issues arising all day.  And to all our residents for (mostly) taking the whole thing in good humour.

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Halls as a scholastic community: carrots or sticks

Posted by Jock Coats on 2nd February 2012

I’ve just left our hall office where warden colleagues appear to be holding the first of what promises to be several evenings of disciplinary assizes.  I hope they will not be bloody ones!  I will be helping tomorrow night with some relating to another part of our site that I don’t normally look after.  I am always only too aware that I seem to do very few of these, whilst over the years the number that some colleagues do increases all the time.  I can’t help feeling there is something wrong here when I get into trouble with my management for NOT doing disciplinaries, as if there ought to be some quota we each have to fill! (I assure any students reading this that the isn’t)

Over the years I’ve been a warden my site has grown by around 400% and has become, as with the wider university population, much more diverse.  Out of hours support, pastoral and disciplinary, and warden line management, has moved from being handled through student services to hall management as part of estates directorate.  We have recruited a higher and higher proportion of wardens from amongst younger, undergraduate students, perhaps because they are easier for hall managers to manage compared with us obstreperous old curmudgeons who actually have experience, wide connections around the university and opinions as to how social order could and should be maintained.

When I started it was predominently university staff, mostly academic, who were wardens – I was a fortunate (for me) exception – and at the very least, no undergraduate students in any large halls.  The number of issues that have gone on to disciplinary hearings has increased I am sure by a greater proportion than the number of extra residents in the hall.  Resultant penalties have risen inexorably – they now make my eyes water and I’m a well paid full time employee not struggling to live on loans, grants, part time jobs and handouts from mum and dad.  Whilst there are lot of factors here, I can’t help thinking that there is some cause and effect going on.

Most importantly, at least since the transfer of warden and disciplinary functions to halls and estates from student services (where they remain in most other universities I can find information for), we have had very little debate about what we expect and what students, our customers and community backbone, expect out of halls.  Or at least, despite all my experience, none of any discussions that have been had have involved tapping that experience or that of other long serving wardens (at least before being presented with fait accomplis changes for “consultation”).  And I assure you, I think about it all the time…at least as much as I put into my day job or, now, my degree.  Because I believe, very fundamentally, that halls form an integral and crucial part of the now fashionable “Student Experience”. And, as one who calls Morrell Hall “home” I take their success or failure intensely personally.

UNC SWAT team: campus overkill?That debate is now long overdue and urgent as we approach the time when students are going to be asked to pay more than ever before just to study here, never mind around fifty per cent again to stay in halls of residence.  If we’re not careful, out of hours “support” might start looking even more like that now available at the Univesity of North Carolina seen in this photo… We will have failed.

Even now, it feels to me that we are “coping” rather than succeeding.  Those who are punished for what they often feel are relatively trivial infractions and those who suffer disturbances when they are trying to work or sleep are not sure who to complain to or what happens when they do complain are not being well served.  I rather suspect that if some knew quite how much people who are, most of the time, their neighbours, classmates and friends, ended up paying when they enter the disciplinary system they would be even more likely to suffer in silence.

So to my vision for halls and the support we give to residents in halls.

Halls should be an integral part of the scholastic community of the university. If people are paying nine grand just to study here or fourteen grand to study and have a room on the university estate, they should expect the two to be more joined up.  For the Student Experience to extend from lecture room to bedroom if you will, with added value facilities such as social study space and communal leisure areas as part of the package.  If the postgraduate centre, for example, deserves a social facility, then so should all the rest of halls.

Out of hours support should combine the roles of pastoral support, academic adviser, student support coordinator – in short, what other institutions call the student’s “Moral Tutor“.  Junior ranks of support should be more like the Peer Assisted Learning helpers some academic departments use to provide backup support in areas they did well in in earlier years.  We should look to have thriving community associations in each hall.

We need to find more carrots and use the stick less often, but possibly more harshly when we do. Vandalism and violence and abuse could be dealt with by sending down or rustication.  I’ll bet you think that as an anarchist I don’t “do” rules.  Not true at all.  I “do” private law – we, the property owner, can impose whatever reasonable restrictions we like to create the atmosphere we want as a part of the contract residents choose to accept.  But in return we should offer more connection with the rest of the life of the university than the semi-detached hostel status halls currently appear at times to be treated as (by both management and student residents).

To this end we need to find ways of welcoming new residents when they arrive.  Kitchen meetings several weeks into their time here are not “welcome” events.  I was frankly shocked when I discovered that the talks I had campaigned for this year turned out to be “invitations” rather than “expected” attendance.  We need to lay down the boundaries at the point of arrival, not once they get into trouble.

Halls need a social online space where future flat and block mates can meet each other and the support staff before they arrive, just as we are hoping to do for the modules and courses they will be on, from as soon as they know where they will be living and what they will be studying.   And using the same social media platform (such as Moodle) so that they appear to be part of the same institution and the same infrastructure, again, not semi-detached or yet another thing to learn to use to get the most out of the place.

Academics must realise, even now, that most of the work that counts as study outside of contact hours goes on “at home” and for many, especially as first years, that means in halls.  So they should be able to talk about how managing ones time involves also having respect for others in their environs so that everybody gets a fair chance at finding quiet time to get work done, and that they should know that academic support is available out of hours through the Warden/HallPAL teams with whom they meet to discuss issues as they might with their own faculty SSCs and so on.

I would have one warden/dean drawn from relatively senior academic or academic related staff, or at least people with established student support experience in the university, and they can remain as the “ultimate threat” for disciplinary action as the Deans are in university colleges when security officers or HallPALs report issues to them.  And their powers should include rustication or removal from halls with negotiation with accommodation officers and university senior staff.  In fact, wouldn’t it be fantastic if each Faculty could nominate at least one of the HallPAL/junior wardens in each hall whilst Student Support appoints the Dean/Senior Warden in all of them.

In some halls this might mean reconfiguring Warden/Dean accommodation in order to be able to recruit more senior people to the role, with most current warden accommodation more appropriate for early career academics who should be encouraged to be part of halls support teams when they join the institution and perhaps student rooms in shared flats for the HallPAL undergraduate support team members.  Contracts need to give more security of tenure than the year to year system that operates at present (Reading has revolving four year contracts for their Wardens, who are recruited from the senior academic levels).

Southampton found that the ratio of support staff to residents had to be closer to one to fifty for residents to feel they had someone identifiable they could contact, not the one to a hundred proposed a couple of years ago here.  Hull has a relatively senior academic (for which read member of the professoriat) with family accommodation for every block of fifty or so, with additional more junior but still academic based support – I am not proposing we can go that far, just yet, until such a system proves itself at least.  We need to be able to know and recognise students as neighbours, not just occasional policing teams calling in when they’ve done something wrong or got a complaint to make and be recognised by them to gain their respect and for them to know that there is always someone on hand with the time to help them, academically or pastorally.

Line management for these roles needs to be returned to student and academic support departments and away from estates and hall management which isolates them from the rest of the university support structures.

All this need not be costly, certainly no more costly than the changes to the out of hours support service proposed two years ago.  It does require a culture change.  A realisation that halls are an integral part of creating a scholastic community, adding value to the nine grand fees by being more than just a place to live (and a relatively expensive one at that), creating a culture that will enhance our local communities by setting boundaries for students before they move out into private accommodation – as one former governor once suggested to me, the “collegiality” rite of passage between “familiarity” and “community”.  More carrot than stick.  More community than hostel.  More integrated into the rest of the university.

I’ve been saying these things for years without anyone acknowledging them let alone incorporating any of the ideas.  And to me, the result is tonight’s “assizes,” bloody or not.  Such confrontational situations are not good for the university’s reputation or the student experience.  Let’s hope we can find those elusive carrots instead.

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Reflections of a Freshman, Part 5: Support, in and out of hours

Posted by Jock Coats on 12th January 2012

I’ll try and wrap up with this post, and roll the issues of support both on and off campus, in and out of core hours, into one post.  I will probably still do a separate one about the future of halls of residence as well, but cover the basics in this one.

I have to say that whenever I’ve been to see the Student Support Co-ordinators they’ve been very helpful.  I’ve not really seen them about anything terribly complex yet, and I haven’t yet felt the need to visit Upgrade or my Academic Adviser so I can’t comment on them at all.  However I do find that as with other areas those of us whose course modules are delivered by different Faculties sometimes fall between the gaps I think.  The SSCs and Academic Adviser are of course, rightly, the ones in the faculty delivering the whole subject – in my case, Business.  But they are not in a position to answer questions on what amounts to fully half our course, those bits delivered by Humanities and Social Sciences.

A similar situation arises with the course representatives meetings – they are arranged by Department, so the meetings I go to only review their own modules, so we don’t get in on the discussion of modules in Politics and International Relations.  My understanding is that when everyone was simply on one or more fields, they had reps for each field, so if we had built a course simply by adding an economics field and a politics field together we would have been able to be reps on both (or perhaps either) field.  Something needs to change here I think.  One proposal was to have the program leads from Politics and International Relations attend some of our subject rep meetings in Wheatley, but I think that would be wasteful.  We might as well attend the equivalent meetings in both faculties – it needn’t be the same reps at each, so perhaps we could divide up the jobs between the IX course reps.

Halls of Residence

But my main beef on support is less directly concerned with the faculties themselves and more about “student life” – if you will the time outside contact hours and office hours and so on when, let’s face it, most of us end up doing our coursework, revision and so on.  And for me the focus for this is halls of residence.  I’ve been a warden for many years now and I’m a bit fed up of the various changes to the warden service that have diminished the service in my view.  And I’m even more fed up of not having my experience taken much into account when people who run the service make decisions.  It’s not as if I am backward in coming forward!

I am still learning – none more so than this semester when, though not exactly the same as fellow students in halls (in that I am a warden and they are paying residents), I have also found myself doing coursework at home in halls.  My feeling is that when Year 9k comes next year, those forking out another £5k plus for what in reality amounts to 24 or 25 weeks of useful occupancy, they are going to expect much more from halls in terms of support for both academic and social activities.

Our headline rents are around £100-£135 per week, usually for 38 weeks.  But for years now we have steadily increased the amount students are expected to pay for.  When I first started, I think they were on 33 week contracts, where they would pay for each term (week 1 to week 10), were expected to move out over each holiday (Christmas, Easter and the long vacation) so we could use halls for conferences and the like.  They paid, effectively, for the time they needed to be here.  Now thy have to pay throughout the Christmas vacation and for around three weeks after examinations finish in summer.  All in all, if you are in a £135 a week room, you can be paying the best part of £200 per week for the weeks you actually use (and if your lectures etc fit the right pattern, you can easily stay in Oxford two nights a week, with breakfast, for less).

Now of course the business of universities has changed.  We stopped expecting people to move out long before semesters started – when the Christmas and Easter conference trade became negligible.  Greater numbers of international students need accommodation throughout the academic year – though even these are, judging by the number of people actually in halls over the Christmas break, relatively few in number.  Right now, hall rent (indeed any accommodation) is the biggest expense compared with fees of £3k.  But when the choice is between £9k to study from home or £14k to stay away at university, I feel more people are going to want more of a connect between the academic day time activities and support in halls as part of a scholastic community.

As I proposed at the time hall wardens were last under discussion, I think we should be more like what other universities call “Moral Tutors”.  In our case it could be a mixture of the roles of Student Support Coordinators, Academic Advisers, Moral Tutors and Upgrade advisers.  And we should be split off from the Estates department again.  Still it seems from most universities job adverts for positions equivalent to wardens they mostly report into the Student Services and Support type function rather than the Estate management function.  Indeed even where universities, such as Reading, have outsourced the management of all their halls to UPP, they expect their wardens to come from the professoriat and other senior academics.

Since we have been run out of the Estates department, the recruitment has focussed on students, probably more easily managed than us obstreperous old timers with opinions on how to run things based on living there for a long time and experiencing what the students actually experience.

I understand we do not have a project in the Program for the Enhancement of the Student Experience that directly relates to halls.  This is a grave omission and before any further changes are made to the warden service this wide ranging discussion of how halls fit into the student experience and then what sort of support we need to provide in that environment needs to take place.  To kick such a discussion off I offer my scheme for the out of hours service that was submitted and roundly rejected the last time we looked at the out of hours support service, attached, as a Google Document available to people inside of Brookes.

Posted in Brookes, Halls of Residence, Student Experience | Comments Off on Reflections of a Freshman, Part 5: Support, in and out of hours