Member Spotlight: Paul Burns
ASRA hears from Paul Burns, Accommodation Office Manager at The University of Manchester about 'Lifestyle Moderated’ rooms, the new approach to the offer provided to students living in Halls.
What is the current provision of student accommodation at The University of Manchester?
We have a number of rooms set aside for dedicated quiet living – they are known as ‘Lifestyle Moderated’ rooms.
We have been offering these for five years and the demand has fluctuated. Within this offer, we have considered the provision of areas within Halls that can offer an alternative lifestyle to what might be considered the usual Undergraduate experience in a UK Institution. Students living in this area of Halls would have requested and be expected to adopt a moderated lifestyle in respect of alcohol and the way in which they choose to socialise. We do not envisage being able to guarantee a permanently quiet or alcohol free environment but by grouping likeminded people together it is hoped we can at least provide a genuine alternative.
What do you feel is Manchester’s USP in terms of student accommodation?
The variety of halls, in great locations! We have the ability to offer accommodation in small, traditional catered halls to large units of over a 1,000 beds. This means not only can we offer a wide choice at the point of application but once students move in, if they feel the environment isn’t working for them they can (subject to availability of course) look for an alternative community. We understand that accommodation is a key factor of the student experience.
What do you feel are the key patterns and trends for those working in student accommodation to be aware of?
The increasing self-awareness of students and their own mental health needs presents a challenge to accommodation staff when the same students make close associations between their prospective or actual Hall of Residence and their mental health condition. An increasing number of students articulate their accommodation needs prior to arrival in the context of anxiety and stress. Within weeks of arriving at University the stress levels appear to dissipate but managing the anxiety pre-arrival is sometimes problematic. I have a great team here at The University of Manchester and we’re committed to offering support to students on this and any other issue they may have pre or post arrival.
Tell us about a specific project that you are especially proud of working on or contributing towards?
Developing a great customer insight through a strategic and targeted use of customer satisfaction metrics. Through this I’ve been able to disseminate results to various staff groups which have clearly improved our levels of our customer service. I presented on this a few years ago at the ASRA North West Regional meeting and it's a system I'm really proud of. This approach coupled with a really effective complaints management system means we can be responsive to student needs and identify areas for improvement. It’s a long process that we continue to focus on to ensure effectively delivery of the services we offer.
Paul recently appeared on BBC News taking about the increased demand in ‘Lifestyle Moderated’ rooms.
Paul graduated in Law from University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in the late 1980s before establishing his own legal education consultancy in Leicester for trainee journalists. In 1991 he left Leicester for Japan where he spent most of the 1990s teaching English and working as a counsellor for cross-cultural understanding. Since returning to Manchester in 1999 Paul has worked at The University of Manchester in a variety of roles, most recently as the Manager of the University’s Accommodation Office. An avid follower of Manchester City and a keen Ultra runner, father of two Paul is known for his sweet tooth and dry sense of humour (something which his colleagues at The University of Manchester and ASRA can vouch for).