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Which department should I be in?

What happens when a cause for concern falls outside of our remit, asks ASRA chair, Michael Ball

With this edition of University Business focusing on university estates, I wondered if it would be helpful to look at the location of residence teams within the department structure of both universities and private providers, and to consider if the organisational structure can help deliver services more effectively.

We are all now very familiar with the development of our residence life teams and associated initiatives seeking to engage with our residential populations trying to ensure a high level of satisfaction and positive experience during their time at university.

But what happens when a cause for concern falls outside of our remit? Do all residence teams have good access to the maintenance and facilities teams who support the building within which our students reside? Well of course there will be escalation policies and protocols relevant to the particular services. But can it be the case that satisfaction can be compromised because of a political routine or a policy, which is clear, but does not consider the impacts and circumstances in place at the time, and is affecting a person resident in our accommodation?

The question has crossed my mind previously that because my own accommodation service sits within the Estates and Facilities Dept., do I have better influence on those matters which can affect day-to-day life in accommodation when needing to escalate a concern? Or, is it more straightforward when approaching an internal or external service level agreement from what may be deemed as a support service? Never mind how minor it may be when the ‘response timescales’ are considered. Is a dripping tap
really a priority one? Can there really be occasions when the heating policy offers challenges to overseas students? For colleagues working on the ‘frontline’ of student accommodation, the above is very easy to answer. Of course they can!

I suppose the consideration is, do all estates or facilities teams, who do not have a rather experienced/miserable/challenging/awkward Residential Services Manager (about my height and shape),  knocking on their door at such times, they can stand behind the service level agreement which will be in place with internal and external facilities teams. Has the residence life agenda filtered through to such teams and the importance of ‘customer satisfaction?’ and indeed should it be filtering through?

We will all, I am sure, have faced the questions on how reasonable is ‘a reasonable delay’, and thought, ‘If I needed to get my heating fixed today, I probably couldn’t! Yet, our resident students do still in some part expect us to be there as the repair or breakdown becomes apparent. If our customers’ expectations, while high currently, become higher, can we offer ‘reasonable’ levels of service within those expectations?

We in the world of accommodation need our colleagues from facilities departments or contracted service organisations and estates teams to embed the culture of ‘end-user satisfaction’ to assist in delivering the advertised/promised or expected support to the residence life challenges being deployed in increasing levels across all of our accommodation locations.

It’s a tough act to keep all occupiers happy, so hopefully we can keep working together for the same aims. Good luck and please liaise nicely.

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