Most students living in college next year could see significant reductions in the housekeeping services they receive, with some staff redundancies to be expected.
Under new proposals unveiled earlier this week, changes will be implemented to standardise housekeeping and portering services across the University.
As of the next academic year, all college rooms will be cleaned on a termly rather than fortnightly basis, as is currently the case in three-quarters of Durham colleges.
Announcing the proposed changes in an email to all students, Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges & Student Experience), and Nina Griffiths, Director of Operations, said that: “At present we have considerable variation in service levels in our Colleges in terms of housekeeping.
“Different cleaning frequencies exist across common facilities resulting in you, our students, experiencing different levels of service.”
All college rooms will be cleaned on a termly rather than fortnightly basis
The operations review “aims to provide a greater level of equality and consistency in housekeeping services for students.”
Meanwhile, “unpredictable levels of resilience and effectiveness” between portering services will be addressed by increasing the number of porters and standardising shift patterns and duration, through which the University “anticipate[s] a real benefit to student support in our Colleges.”
If approved, the proposals will come into effect at the beginning of August for the start of the 2020/21 academic year.
Currently, 12 colleges are cleaned by University-provided services on a fortnightly basis, 1 on a weekly basis, and 3 on an annual basis.
The proposals mean that students at the fortnightly-cleaned colleges will see the number of cleans over the course of the year reduce from 16 to 3.
College accommodation costs will not be reduced next year to compensate
Despite the reduction in the amount of cleaning services provided to livers-in, college accommodation costs will not be reduced next year to compensate. A single catered room with shared bathroom will cost £7,894 for the 2020/21 academic year.
A student consultation period will open with an online survey available on the University website on 24th February, and will continue until the final week of Epiphany Term. There will also be two face-to-face meetings with JCR and MCR Presidents, as well as Students’ Union Officers, as part of their consultations.
According to the University website, “at meetings with the SU President, the impact of the proposals has been deemed ‘moderate’ in line with the student consultation framework.”
The proposals are the second phase of the University’s College Residential Services Business Process Review. The first phase, which concluded in August 2019, led to significant changes to management and supervisory structures in colleges, as well as the catering services of some colleges.
The first phase garnered controversy after the University scheduled their student consultation period during the Easter holidays, when most students were not in the city.
“It is frustrating that student compassion and concern for staff members in College has been treated as an after-thought”Kate McIntosh, Durham Students’ Union President
Durham Students’ Union President Kate McIntosh called the proposals “very worrying”, adding: “It is frustrating that student compassion and concern for staff members in College has been treated as an after-thought.
“Alongside JCR Presidents’ Committee Chair Caragh [Evans], I have worked hard to ensure that consultation with students on any proposed changes is appropriate and thorough, but I am still pushing the University to get to grips with consultation as a democratic exercise, and not a branding tool.
“It is absolutely reasonable that students expect affordable, quality accommodation, for staff to be respected and well-paid, and for their college communities to be supported and not undermined.”
As well as impacting student experience, the proposals will likely result in redundancies among housekeeping staff. Discussions with the relevant trade unions are ongoing as part of the consultation period.
“We anticipate a modest reduction in housekeeping staff but a slight increase in total portering staff”Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience)
In a statement provided to Palatinate, Jeremy Cook said: “Until consultation has concluded we cannot confirm the final structures and roles, though we will, as always, do all we can to minimise compulsory redundancies.
“However, should these proposals be approved in their current form, we anticipate a modest reduction in housekeeping staff but a slight increase in total portering staff.
“The University has not made a final decision and will listen carefully to the staff and student feedback and make changes where appropriate.
“The collegiate system is, and will remain, an integral part of our University identity.”
Staff affected by the proposals can apply for Enhanced Redundancy before 27th April.
When approached by Palatinate for comment, several porters informed us they had been told not to discuss the proposals.
“What they’re doing with the weekend porters is absolutely disgraceful”College porter
However one full-time college porter said: “What they’re doing with the weekend porters is absolutely disgraceful.
“I really enjoy portering. The big change in my job is that I am going to five days out of seven and they’re cutting any overtime, but at the end of the day I still have a job.
“It always seems to be the lower end of the scale that gets hit when it comes to any job losses and saving money. Weekend porters are going to lose 32 hours’ pay per month. I don’t know how you can justify that.”
Image from Les Hull via Wikimedia Commons