Season 2 Episode 5 – Preparing for September (part 2)

In this month’s podcast, we are continuing the conversation about the arrival of students in September 2021. In the first part last month, we discussed the needs, concerns and expectations of incoming students. This month, we find out how the higher education sector is planning to welcome these students, support the needs of this cohort, and settle them into their new home.

Joining host Darren Ellis, Higher Education Engagement Director at Unite Students, is:

  • Einita Suman, Director of Accommodation and Operations at University of Birmingham
  • Rebecca O’Hare, Assistant Director of Resident’s Life and Accommodation at University of Leeds
  • Clare Ody, Head of Customer Experience at Unite Students

During this episode - which is the last episode this season - they share their plans to welcome students in September, including how they’ll support students in building community and making friends on arrival; what wellbeing support they’ll be offering to meet students’ welfare needs; what they’ve learned from the 2020/21 academic year; and how they might respond to any further disruption from Covid-19.

Key comments include:

Enita Suman, Director of Accommodation and Operations, University of Birmingham:

On the in-coming first year cohort:

Many in-coming first years are coming to us straight from doing A-levels in lockdown…they will have turned 18 in lockdown…so they have missed out on many of the rites of passages we all enjoyed as we transitioned to university. [Consequently], there is a lot of anticipation around what the first year will look like…This has added a pressure for both us [University of Birmingham] and them.

On peer-to-peer support:

“Peer-to-peer support is key, but boundaries do need to be carefully put in place. We have very clear guidelines for our student mentors. We make clear that if someone has reached a point of crisis, which is identified through a specialised matrix, we have a clear fast-track into [more formal help/services].”

On challenges around international students:

“We know it’s going to be difficult for international students this year – we’ve got red lists, amber lists…For our amber students we have a really good programme in place for them, to facilitate self-isolation. There is a 10-day plan, in which we really encourage them to get involved in our virtual community.

“It’s going to be challenging with red list countries and I think we need to be honest about that.”

Rebecca O’Hare, Assistant Director of Residents’ Life and Accommodation, University of Leeds

On the increased importance and prominence of res-life teams over the last year:

“At Leeds, the pandemic has really shone a positive light on these teams and showed the lengths they have gone to in order to ensure that students have what they need, are triaged effectively and still feel like they are part of the Leeds community despite the pandemic.”

On how socialising will change:

“Over the last year, pretty much everything has been virtual which interestingly for many res life teams was a bit of a revelation - where we all collectively said why didn’t we think of this before? It’s allowed us to engage with a different kind of student – one who might not want to go to big events etc. This year, we hope to bring back face-to-face activities, but we also want to take what we’ve learnt from virtual experience and also continue to offer activity in this way too.”

Claire Ody, Head of Customer Experience, Unite Students

On the support Unite Students has put in place:

“Here at Unite, we’re focused on building community before applicants arrive. We have a designated ‘get ready with us’ social media campaign to help answer their queries. We know students are socially anxious about meeting new people so their MyUnite app helps them to meet their flatmates and people in their properties before they arrive in September. This goes for new and returning students.”

To hear what else they talked about this month, the podcast is available below to download. Accommodation Matters returns with a new season in September.

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