SR Scholarships to be Retained in Win for 2024 Student Residents

Content Warning: Self-harm, Attempted Suicide, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Alcohol Abuse, Domestic Violence, Institutional Betrayal.

Photography by Chris Jackson

The ANU has confirmed there will be no reduction in Senior Resident (SR) scholarships under the new 24/7 staffing model to be adopted for on-campus residences in 2024.

Students, residential leaders and ANUSA advocated for SR scholarships to be maintained after ANU’s announcement of a residence staffing overhaul sparked fears that scholarship amounts would be cut.

While the new model is not yet finalised, the Acting Director of ANU’s Residential Experience Division, Felicity Gouldthorp (she/her), emailed residents on August 31 to confirm that any changes “will not impact the value of SR scholarships in 2024.”

ANUSA President and former Wright Hall SR Ben Yates called the announcement “a fantastic outcome” in a Facebook post.

“On-campus residents want SRs to be well-funded, well-supported roles,” he wrote.

SRs at ANU-owned residences are remunerated with a scholarship, currently fixed to 100 per cent of the occupancy tariff for a standard room. This means SR scholarships differ between residences, as living at Burton and Garran may cost less than living at Bruce, but will cover a full year of occupancy at any given hall.

ANU earlier this year canvassed moving overnight “on-duty” responsibilities from SR positions to 24/7 staff members. SRs currently serve as emergency points of contact for students at their residences during their overnight duty shifts while residence reception is closed.

Beyond pastoral care and social support, on-duty SRs have been expected to support students through physical and mental health emergencies, including alcohol abuse, self-harm, and sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH).

The proposal to shift responsibilities was welcomed by SRs but sparked fears that the ANU would reduce SR scholarships to reflect a fall in expected workload.

ANU Interhall Council (IHC) chair and Bruce Hall residents’ committee president Pippa Buchanan praised Thursday’s announcement, saying scholarships could “ensure that valuable members of the residential community, particularly later-years, choose to live on campus.” 

She said it is “essential that older students see value and worth in staying in on-campus residences” to support younger students with their “experience and maturity.”

An experienced current SR told Woroni that maintaining the scholarship value “provides financial security for those applying to the role.”

“It’s good news for next year’s SRs,” said another.

Poor consultation

The announcement broke a month-long period of silence after the university gave SRs an indication of the new model’s direction in June and ran a consultation period in June and July, including anonymous surveys for students and focus groups with SRs.

The ANU’s consultative approach to the SR review improves on its previously lacking incorporation of student feedback into staffing models, which has prompted student leaders to strike in the past. This year’s decision by the ANU to increase resident lockout fees to $100, for example, was made without consulting SRs or their student managers, Community Coordinators (CCs).

However, a current CC told Woroni that ANU’s communication throughout the SR review process was “really poor” and has “added to a lot of financial and housing stress amongst SRs, CCs, and even hall management.”

They criticised the limited opportunities to provide feedback, saying they didn’t receive an invitation to a focus group and that the only SR focus group “was conveniently timed in the middle of the Winter holidays when the vast majority of SRs weren’t in Canberra.”

Other SRs said the consultation period was too limited. “Both SRs and the Head of Hall were quite suspicious of the consultation strategy,” said one. “They believed the consult was actively trying to undermine any meaningful feedback or advice, and just trying to rush through the process.”

The CC told Woroni that their SR team received no direction from the ANU after consultation ended and had been “expecting a significant decrease based on the limited bits of information we heard.”

“That made it impossible for current leaders to know if they could afford to return to campus and stay in their roles, meaning great SRs who are excellent assets to our community had to start planning sharehouses instead of returning.”

New staffing model

The abrupt announcement that scholarships would be maintained aimed to keep experienced students in residences but gave no clarification of what their working conditions will be like under the new model, which is not yet finalised.

An ANU spokesperson emphasised that while the university intends to “invest significantly in more professionally trained staff in residences,” it has not “made any final decisions on 24/7 staffing.”

The ANU appears to be moving towards a model where SRs and 24/7 staff work in tandem. Gouldthorp told residents that any new “after-hours staff support must work collaboratively with the residential community, and in particular with Senior Residents.”

Buchanan and the IHC said reforms are “necessary … to protect senior leaders from being confronted with situations beyond their capacity.”

Patrick Stephenson, a former SR at Davey Lodge, said “The SR role puts severe stress on every student who takes up the position…many SR’s have dealt with much more serious issues than should be expected of the role.” Stephenson identifies having to respond to “attempted suicides and domestic violence,” saying he was “left with a significant feeling of institutional betrayal towards the ANU for the previous model of the SR role.” Stephenson welcomed the potential implementation of employed overnight staff in residences.

Other SRs contacted by Woroni were also optimistic about potential changes, with one saying their role “would be less stressful and easier dealing with anything alcohol [related],” if 24/7 staff were there to back them up.

However, they emphasised a sustained lack of communication over practical questions about the new model, with another SR pointing to “a lot of unanswered areas.”

“What background, training and experience do these new staff have, and how will they be promoted and integrated into their respective college communities?” they asked.

A central fear is that shifting SR responsibilities to staff could limit the position’s pastoral care function for their student peers.

One SR told Woroni that on-call staff would provide less effective support than student SRs, as “people wouldn’t feel fully comfortable disclosing issues to an ANU staff member, such as if someone was paralytically drunk.”

It is also unclear how possible increases in workforce size would be funded, although cuts to SR scholarships are now off the table. 

“What background, training and experience do these new staff have, and how will they be promoted and integrated into their respective college communities?”

Other options could include cuts to the number of SR or CC positions. Most halls employ two CCs, who are paid as casual staff and work alternating overnight duty shifts, supporting the on-duty SR. This means CCs get paid for the amount of hours they work, as opposed to receiving a scholarship for their position.

A current CC told Woroni that they feared ANU might cut CC pay and duty shifts to fund new staffing arrangements. “ANU can promise to pay 100% of the current rate and then still tinker with duty shifts throughout 2024,” the CC said.

“If CCs stop doing duty, that means a huge part of the job is cut, and the [CC] fortnightly paycheck will drop by maybe a third.”

Buchanan said it was “essential student consultation is maintained as the responsibilities of SRs evolve throughout 2024.”

An ANU spokesperson said work is still being done, and “the Residential Experience Division will continue to consult with key stakeholders over the coming months to inform the after-hours model.”

Where to from here?

The new staffing model aims to deal with the decade of controversy over SR responsibilities and the role’s suitability for emergency response.

More recently, SRs had to enforce COVID-19-related health restrictions set by the ANU and facilitate the university’s lockdown of its residential halls in 2021. SRs were at the front of arguments over the lockout fee hike, with university staff claiming the increase would reduce SR workload, while ANUSA and the IHC argued it would damage the SR-resident relationship and efficacy of pastoral care.

As the staffing model is implemented and the dynamic of the new SR-staff relationship emerges, residents will likely see further changes to the SR position.

Gouldthorp told residents that “SR responsibilities in 2024 will initially be similar” when the model is first implemented, but that these will subsequently “likely evolve.”

For 2024, at least, reductions in the SR scholarship amount will not be part of any changes.

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