Halls Wardens to be Replaced

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A review of the Wardenal team (Residences Support Team) has resulted in a proposal that, if adopted, will see the end of wardens living with students in halls of residence. Instead, the University has proposed to employ full time Resident Support Assistants who would be at halls between 6pm-8am nightly and live elsewhere.

This will, according to some, have a huge effect on the level of pastoral care available to students in halls. To some students this support is essential. In addition to this it is likely to mean the 86 current members of the Wardenal team will find themselves redundant and evicted from their homes in halls.

The current Wardenal team is made up of mature students and staff. The new requirement of full night shifts, in blocks of three on, three off, effectively means current wardens will be excluded from applying for the new positions. At the moment they live in halls, sleeping overnight until called and are a crucial part of supporting vulnerable students throughout their time in halls of residence. They are able to build relationships with the students, becoming part of the community. A night only team, with no connection to the university, may not be able to provide this level of support.

Wardens deal with a vast number of issues. These range from counselling those suffering from homesickness or stress to resolving conflicts within flats and supporting students with mental health issues, along with much more.  Living in halls means they can follow these problems up to ensure continued support, rather than just leaving vulnerable students to their own devices, reliant on daytime support from elsewhere in the University.  Commenting on the new plan, an experienced vice-warden stated, “on paper the preferred option makes sense to managers. But if you have an understanding of the importance of the service we provide, you’re more likely to see that it potentially means a massive deterioration on the quality of service for students, and consequently the University as a whole.”

Under the new proposal, the new team will be introduced on September 15th. This is a fortnight before fresher’s week, the busiest time of the wardenal calendar. So there would be an inexperienced team, who are unlikely to have a connection with the University, being introduced at a time of peak demand

Currently the plans are at the third (and final) stage of consultation. The preferred option for the university is that stated above. However, senior members of the Wardenal team have tabled a separate proposal that, while solving the issues the review set out to address, keeps much of the existing structure in place, and would not result in such a drastic loss of pastoral care for students in halls. The consultation closes on March 31st, and is still open for comment. The documents are available here. Any feedback should be directed here, and examples of students who have benefited from Wardenal support are particularly useful.

The first two phases of the consultation recognised the importance of halls wardens- even noting that without them other support services could be overrun, and the potential for early intervention in problems could be lost. There was no threat of redundancies, so much so that new wardens were hired this year, leaving their homes to move into halls, where they will be evicted in a matter of months if the preferred option is adopted. However, the third document suddenly changed direction, the emphasis on pastoral care disappearing and the new preferred option appearing without warning. The wardenal team received the document for the first time on February 15th, and the meeting to discuss it was on the 16th. In one day they were expected to read, digest and object to a complicated 60 page paper.

The current wardens who spoke to the Wessex Scene were deeply critical of the consultation process, “it’s as though they had this idea at the beginning of the year, they haven’t listened to anything we’ve said. It’s a farce.”

The new proposals would cost the University around £1 million in salaries and additional security. They plan to recoup this money by renting out the 86 rooms that will be vacated by wardenal staff. However, halls already have more rooms than students, so where this money will come from is unclear. Perhaps by increasing student rent, fees, or simply by cuts to other resources.

The university’s motivation is unclear. Whatever it is, there are two big losers in this process. Firstly, the Wardenal staff, who face redundancy and eviction. Crucially, though it is the vulnerable students in halls of residence, who face a drastic reduction in the availability of pastoral care. One subwarden summed it up by saying, “The university is run as a business, everything in today’s world is. But a university is a place of education, it exists firstly for the students. The people in the suits, counting the pennies at Southampton seem to have lost that focus.” On this evidence, it is hard to disagree.

An online petition is also available here

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