Introduction

In all accommodation, regardless of effort on all sides, damage sometimes occurs. In University accommodation the average annual damages bill of a hall of residence is over £2000. This sum is paid for by the committee from the hall subscriptions of its residents. Not included in this total is the amount of damage which can be attributed to an individual or group. Before the Lean Team were brought in, there were a number of issues regarding the payment of the necessary reparations:
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  1. Manual processing of invoices was paper-heavy and very time consuming.
  2. Lack of communication with students/committees before invoices sent out. Students could end up receiving an invoice with no prior knowledge that a bill was on its way.
  3. Different procedures were followed in each hall which lead to situations in which students could be charged different amounts for causing similar damages.

 

The Lean Event

Quick results were needed because most halls are inhabited throughout the academic year and rented out during the summer. A 5-day rapid improvement event ensured that results could be delivered within the short timeframe available to those involved.

The solutions implemented had to be applicable to every hall in St Andrews, with fairness across the board. Wardennial staff, residence managers, a member of staff from Student Services and an ex-Senior Student of McIntosh Hall were involved in the event to cover each party involved with the process.

Some of the issues raised during the event
Some of the issues raised during the event

Solutions

An electronic system replaced the paper-based practice. After residence managers have filled in a student damage web-form, an email is sent to the finance team detailing who was responsible for the damage, where it occurred and the value of the reparations so the appropriate charge can be raised on the student’s account. The form also sends a politely worded email to the student involved explaining the charges and offering links to support should the student require it.

Damages to be footed by hall committees are presented by residence managers to executive committee members and wardens at monthly meetings.

All residence managers use the same web-form to ensure that all students are treated equally.

A ‘menu’ was compiled with costings for items which could conceivably be damaged. This assures that invoices can be given to students quickly, minimising anxiety.

Photographs of damage were captured as examples for staff members. The difference between damage and wear and tear had previously been an area of controversy.

Posters have been designed to relate to students the rules surrounding damages in an non-patronsing way. These are deployed in students’ rooms at the beginning of the semester with the aim of inducing a more mature attitude to damages from the outset.

 

“It was a breakthrough moment for better working relationships between Residence Managers, Wardens and Hall Committees. This LEAN project instigated formal regular meetings between these parties in the halls, which has been well received by everyone.” – Warden, McIntosh Hall.

 

Students’ Perspective

A full year from these changes the team asked the St Salvator’s Hall treasurer, Ben Kenny, what he thought of the new system. Although impressed with the consistency between halls and easy payment system, he raised the issue of cleaning up unsanitary waste.

This issue is problematic because improper clean up is a health and safety risk to the person doing the cleaning, or to the other people in the residence. Even with disclaimers in place, individuals or the University as a whole could be held liable if it isn’t cleaned up properly.

As a result of the Lean event, any staff member discovering unhygienic waste is  obliged  to call in the designated external cleaning company. Ben was clear that residents and committee members alike would prefer the opportunity to clean up themselves before resorting to external contractors who cost £141 per call-out. This would save this cost being deducted from the committee’s social fund.

The seemingly high cost of the cleaning should, however, not be taken out of context. The cleaners must be prepared to deal with unhygienic waste and accounting for staff salaries, cleaning equipment, fluids and the journey to St Andrews from Dundee and back, £141 doesn’t look so bad.

Ben agreed and was otherwise very happy with the new system.

 

Outcomes

Ben summed up the changes with two main outcomes.

Positive physical advancements made to the previously inefficient system, as well as positive mental developments in terms of the relationships between residence managers and students. Dealing with damages in a more mature way has meant there is less of an “us and them” attitude, and the real benefit is to the student experience.

 

“[The] facilitators kept everyone involved and feeling as if they were part of something good.” – Residence staff member

“Good interaction from participants to allow the [Lean RIE] process to flow well.” – Residence staff member