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Written by Lee Rawlinson, Director of Innovation at Kinetic

Before joining Kinetic in 2019, Lee has worked as Head of Accommodation at University of Liverpool, making positive changes to Liverpool's residential estate. With a great knowledge of the higher education sector, Lee is now leading on innovation and ideas for Kinetic to bring the education arena to the next level.

 

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Across the country, as lecture theatres fall silent – you should spare a thought for the army of professionals continuing to work as some newspaper headlines announce “Universities close their doors” – it couldn’t be further from the reality of life in student halls of residence.

Having spent years in university housing, wellbeing and all things res life – I am reminded every day of the sheer resilience, courage and selflessness of everyone in the profession. Most are far too modest to shout about their achievements – far too busy with the “doing” than the talking, just getting on with it.

Not easy to prepare yourself for life that’s shifting constantly around you – one minute you are painting a picture of “Student Life” to packed lecture theatres at a university open day, helping to organise student-led events, watching your campus sparkle and come alive with arrivals at the start of the academic year – the next minute you are dealing with students at their lowest ebb - sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide. It’s all real stuff, heavy and horrible.

I think it’s this roller-coaster that creates resilience and the ability to calmly “deal” with whatever the day brings. Unfortunately often overlooked and even unappreciated at times, there is a lack of understanding to the profession that needs to change.

Catching most of us off-guard, higher education was largely unprepared for the magnitude of COVID-19’s arrival. There is no set-plan strategy to be enacted for closing ALL lecture theatres and moving to virtual classrooms whilst at the same time offering university housing to those who can’t easily return home. This unprecedented series of global events have never been seen by the sector in any of our lifetimes, many of us working through outbreaks of swine-flu and SARS.

So now stretched services rely on remote tools to operate almost every part of the institution whilst social distancing and at the same time trying to support students, some not physically on the campus and all whilst tying to build a sense of community to rescue whatever shreds of student experience can be salvaged.

I’m shocked to hear the high number of unhelpful emails being fired into university teams some from students, mostly from parents as feelings of being “let down by education” circulate as stress levels rise.

"Don’t underestimate your people."

Here in university halls, often working on a 1-1 basis to support students, the Residential Advisers (RA’s), Wardens, Hall Management, Accommodation and Student Experience Res Life teams are the unsung heroes of universities without the ability to easily perform their role remotely.

Ensuring students are clean and comfortable, providing food, cleaning their kitchens and keeping them safe and supported whilst their entire world is being flipped on its head.

The virus is taking its toll on mental health with many students worrying even more about their future.

This makes the job even harder

The new daily lows of “why am I even studying?” as job markets shrink around them - retailers, restaurants, bars, cafés close and their “Uni”-verse is shook to its core.

Juggling the new normal and going from lots of meetings and face to face interactions to remote and virtual sessions with colleagues is also testing the spirit of your people, so I urge you not to underestimate the road ahead and the endless skills that they have built up over the years for this very moment.

They won’t tell you so I will, right now they are problem solving, finding answers, forming strategies and supporting students during the most testing times of our lives.

I've enjoyed my past year working closely with these rockstars developing innovative ways to log student interactions, report incidents, securely share concerns and manage crises across the education sector.

I feel so lucky to call these amazing people friends and am so proud to work with them.