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Student residences: more than just a living environment

By Niamh Banks (below), ASRA Communications and IT Officer, and Residences Supervisor at Maynooth University, Ireland

When most people picture students learning, there are several environments that they may imagine; the student feverishly writing notes in a lecture theatre, another in a lab working on experiments, the college athlete wearing their university’s colours with pride, the library devotee hiding away in the quietest corner at 2am, and, of course, the student at play. Rarely, however, do they picture a student in their residence and think of it as a learning environment rather than solely a roof over the student’s head. There are many skills and lessons that can be learned in residences that can help a student with their personal development and arm them with skills for life. Here are my top five lessons a student can learn when living in halls. 

There are many skills and lessons that can be learned in residences that can help a student with their personal development and arm them with skills for life.

● Group dynamics: Despite most students having come from a household where there is a least one other person, the dynamics of living with a group of peers is completely different to living with a parent or sibling. There is no natural hierarchy of personalities and any students will inevitably go through the process of forming a group. They will learn more about how they work in a group and what skills they need to negotiate themselves out of bin wars and into peaceful cleaning arrangements, amongst other things. 

● Rules and consequences: Living in halls inevitably means that a resident has to adhere to a stringent set of rules or risk eviction. More so than in private housing, they will be held accountable for their actions, many of which could have implications for their academic journey. While most residents may feel that the rules are too strict, they serve a purpose in helping to maintain a community focus and teach residents that they are responsible for what they do. 

● Independent living: For many students, this is their first foray into the world of cooking, cleaning and laundry. These are an underestimated set of skills but ones that are important for life. There are many student accommodation workers who have spent time teaching students the basics of how to operate a washing machine, separate their washes, cook something other than beans on toast and learn
the skills they need to survive in any household.

● Fiscal responsibility: The image of students eating ready noodles for weeks on end is a common one. Living away from home puts students under financial pressure that many of them are not used to. Once you include fees or student loans into the picture, there is a large monetary lesson to be learned. Rent must be paid and trying to skip a month or avoid the landlord in residences isn’t an option. Learning how to budget for this is a skill that will help students throughout their lives.

● Using a system: It is one of the sureties in life that there will be paperwork. Applications processes for residences can include several stages and require a student to be organised and prepared. If they are not, they run a higher risk of not getting accommodation in future and can end up desperate and couch surfing or with nowhere to stay at all. 

Residences have greater engagement with students than if they live in a private house, and can help a student build confidence, discover lifelong friendships and take the first steps along the road of adulthood. If we are lucky, they sometimes even return to let us know how they are doing and thank us for that same guidance and help. It is in these times that we can see exactly the lessons learned and learn more about how and what we can teach a new group of students as they move in for the next year.

For further information about the Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA) visit: www.asra.ac.uk.