I have worked collaboration with the JCRs/RAs to put together a proposal the University to consider for University Accommodation. The University Accommodation has been directly affected by the global pandemic with many incidents occurring this year. After a consultation with JCRs/RA committees, we believe the University needs to do more to support students in halls of residence now and beyond the pandemic.
This proposal is for the University to discuss and investigate for some improvements in their Halls. I am meeting with the University Director for Students Experience this week for the first consultation of the proposal.
You can read the full proposal below.
Written by Junior Usina, Welfare & Community Officer
UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER STUDENT’S ACCOMMODATION PROPOSAL
Author Junior Usina SU Welfare and Community Officer
Signed Hall Students Reps JCRs/RAs
The University Manchester Accommodation Needs To Learn From The Pandemic And Change To Better Supports Its Residents.
The University of Manchester’s student accommodation has been directly impact by the pandemic since students began to arrive in September 2020. The University of Manchester has 7,000 students in its halls of residence. More than 4,000 students in halls of residence were in self-isolation between September-November 2020 due to the pandemic. This had a huge impact on the students’ wellbeing and mental health, many writing to the Students’ Union about their experiences.
The Students’ Union made it known to the University that the impact the pandemic would have on students if brought back to campus by presenting to the University 15 questions and a written proposal to support the students. The growing disappointment of the students unhappy with the conditions in the University accommodations led to different incidents that emanated changes.
The students living in halls demand changes in the University Accommodation to improve their conditions and wellbeing. The management must involve more students in the decisions that impact students’ everyday lives.
The Students’ Union and the students living in halls acknowledge the work of the University and accommodation team to support them during the pandemic. We are very privileged to have been one of the first Universities in the country to be supported with an accommodation pledge. We also recognised a few students breaching covid-19 guidelines which had led to fines and other punishments. We acknowledge the importance of students adhering to the vital covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance for community safety. However, 99% of the students living in halls that follow these precious measurements to keep everyone safe do not have to be punished for the 1%. We also recognised that 1% can lead to a further spread of covid-19 in the community. In fact, students have been working to prevent covid-19 from spreading in their accommodations. It was a student who called the police on other students who were breaking covid-19 rules in Owens Park, this led to fines and proper measurement taken by law enforcement to support the community. This clearly demonstrates students understand keeping their accommodation safe which is their homes, they pay for and live in as residents in their communities. Students’ accommodation are homes to students, these are not restricted environments which we should isolate students. It is within the students’ rights to be part of the decision making regarding the place they live and call home perhaps shapes their everyday living.
As a student body, we hereby unite and come together to make a proposal to facilities University and students working together collaboratively to support the students in hall.
The purpose of this proposal is to enhance the relationship between the students and the University, their landlord. This proposal does not exonerate the important role which the students have to play in keeping the community safe and following the Government and University guidelines. This proposal will help support students following the guidelines and be accountable for bad behaviours and rule breaches put in place in their accommodation.
1) Common Rooms Reopening
Social interaction had been the main impact on students. The Students’ Union Teaching and Learning Research found 68.9% of the students believe their mental health or more important than academics, 73.8% believes lack of social interactions was the main driver of their mental health impact by the pandemic.
Common rooms are key part of social interactions in halls and have been closed for some time; however, students do not understand the reason why they are closed. Now, many students believe the common rooms are closed due to it being a university decision not a government decision. If the closure is due to the government, then why not communicate this out. We believe this is causing unnecessary tension between the university and the students. We will further touch on communication below.
There is also the inconsistency of common rooms being open in external halls such as Denmark Road. If a private company can open their common spaces then why can’t we follow?
The Students’ Union and the hall reps want to work with the University on opening the accommodation social spaces following the Government road map to exiting lockdown and covid-19 national restrictions. We believe there are ways to open the common room spaces including the suggestion of placing maximum occupancy of rooms and if students broke this ruling, then they will accountable and could be fined up to £800 due to the government guidance.
Speaking to a lot of students there is also the issue of students living in halls not receiving the full value of their money. A lot of students are concerned that they are paying full prices when they have not been able to access all the facilities. Facilities such as commons room, gyms, libraries and more. These students would like to receive some financial compensation similar to semester 1.
Lack of communication between the University and the students have caused many incidents, non-clarity and misunderstanding between the students and the University. Certainly, the student cannot be blamed for the inefficiencies of the University communication, which sometimes it is very slow, lack definite information, hard to find information, out of date and irrelevant information to the student's current situation.
The University had been in numerous conversations with the student's body to improve their communication quality and efficiency. This communication proposal focuses on the Accommodation webpage and communication.
Comparing the University of Manchester accommodation webpage to other universities in the countries. The students’ union and student reps find the University of Manchester accommodation webpage lacking vital information on their current situation which can support their wellbeing or inform them of regulation changes and updates. How do we expect students to follow guidelines and rules if we do not make them accessible to them? Students were fined £800 for breaching covid-19 household mixing, the University of Manchester never updated their accommodation webpage to make this information accessible to students.
University of Manchester accommodation webpage
• Update Accommodation webpage
• Change the design of the accommodation webpage.
• Make accommodation webpage information more accessible to students.
• Remove irrelevant information from the accommodation webpage.
• Student’s information accessibility journey easier on the accommodation webpage.
• If it is necessary, create a whole new website or web app for your accommodation students.
Here is an example of excellent website. Note how clear the information is and how it has the latest guidance including a time stamp.
Lack of communication of incidents happening within the University accommodation is another problem in the University communication between students and the University. Whereby, the University does not explain or clarify to their students’ residents’ reps and students’ union incidents that impact students’ wellbeing. The student body feels a lack of transparency from the Accommodation Office and management to support their residents which the Students’ Union interest represents. Incidents have happened in the University accommodation they were not communicated to the Students’ Union by the University. The Students’ Union must rely on the external press, student witlessness’s or external community groups to be aware of concerns and issues of students which interest they represent. As the University closest partner between the students, it is unacceptable for the Accommodation Office and management never to consider and value the Students’ Union representation of its residents. It is a betrayer of the Students’ Union collaborative work efforts with the University. Incidents such as, 4,000+ students on self-isolating, the fencing, fining the students £800 or students gathering, and many other students' bad behaviours.
3) Tackling Students Behaviour
We acknowledge the University efforts to tackling the behaviours of students' residents in its accommodation. The University should work together with the students to tackle the student's behaviours and combat crime in its accommodations. While the University relies upon un the community to combat crime, neglect the student's voice and support for measurements put in place to be effective as possible or students adhering to them.
The student body wants the University to take the following actions to combat students’ behaviours.
• More collaboration with students in halls to manage themselves.
• Clear and firm accessible guidelines
• Trust and confidence in students’ residents in the University accommodation
• Involved students in the decision making which directly impact the students’ everyday living.
4) Accommodation Woking Group
The pandemic has exposed many flaws in the University accommodation. It will be naïve from the University to believe things will come back to normal as before.
More than ever the University’s accommodation needs a more collaborative approach in decision making that affects the students and dealing with students' issues in its accommodation.
How can we best learn from the pandemic and implement the lessons learnt?
The student body demand setting up a permanent group that represents all aspect of University of Manchester accommodation is necessary right now.
This group will include, 4 students' representatives, 1 Rep for Fallowfield Halls, 1 Rep for Victoria Park Halls, 1 Rep for City Halls and the Welfare and Community Officer from the Students’ Union. It will also include Head of the University accommodation, a Reslife team member, Estate and Facilities member and an overseer from the University.
The students living in Halls feel they are not involved in the decision making that affects them, they are not consulted before a key decision that impacts their everyday living in Halls are made. Students would like many changes and improvements in their accommodation, but they do not have space where their concerns can be listening to or considered for decision making.
This working group will bring together member of the University, Halls Reps, Reslife, Accommodation team, Students’ Union to discuss and resolve issues that affect students living in Halls. The students feel people that are not affected by the concerns and issues in the Halls are making decisions for them.
Aims / Scope
• Representative of the University Accommodation
• Capture students concerns and issues.
• Inclusive in decision making.
• Tactics that support students
• Better understanding of students experience in the Halls.
• Quick and reactive improvement to the students’ condition of living in Halls.
• More specific and less diminutive of the students’ conditions of living in Halls.
• Opening of common spaces safely
• Compensation for Students who are living currently in halls