UCD Scraps Residential Assistant Programme For New Campus Assistant Role

Image Credit: UCD Residences

The Residential Assistant role has just received its second and fatal hit. After free accommodation was removed, the role was permanently removed to be replaced by a new Campus Assistant scheme.

In March 2024, the role of Residential Assistants (RAs) was removed from possible jobs available to UCD students on the UCD campus. To replace them, the position of Campus Assistants (CA) was created. This new role is “part of a review of student employment within UCD Estate Services”, and builds on the position it is set to substitute. Nevertheless, this sudden change of what is a pillar of campus life has raised questions regarding the actual motivations behind the dismissal of RAs beyond a review of on-campus jobs for UCD students. 

As the name suggests, Residential Assistants are primarily tasked with fostering a community amongst the over four thousand students living in halls and assisting Residences staff out-of-hours. RAs primarily work on evenings and weekends and are “expected to be proactive, to take personal responsibility and to contribute as part of a team in which effective communication and reliability are essential”; as such, they are the first in line of communication between students and Residence staff. Furthermore, RAs are tasked to “serve as a role model for responsible behaviour and respond consistently and fairly to residents’ behavioural concerns”, thus ensuring that students comply with the regulations of student halls. The educational side of the role is complemented by the requirement of RAs to promote on-campus initiatives targeted at developing a sense of community amongst students. 

The ‘assistant’ aspect of the role involves “supporting the operation of the Residences, including responding to incidents and student welfare concerns”, and “assist in related areas such as Contact Centre Support, Event Support and other tasks within the wider management of the Residences or Campus life.” 

RAs are required to undertake a training programme that equips them with the necessary skills to support students and fulfil the role —  especially in relation to the welfare of students living in halls. Furthermore, the duties of being an RA need to be evenly balanced with the academic commitments of those who take on the role. As such, that of an RAs is an incredibly demanding yet rewarding position students could undertake as part of their degree to maximise their experience in UCD. 

RAs are required to undertake a training programme that equips them with the necessary skills to support students and fulfil the role —  especially in relation to the welfare of students living in halls.

Beyond the opportunity to uniquely experience campus life, a specific benefit of applying to be an RA is the opportunity to be automatically allocated on-campus accommodation — since the role requires living in halls to fully execute the role. However, RAs still need to pay a total of €2,700, plus a non-refundable deposit of €740, to their allocated accommodation. The role used to guarantee free accommodation until 2017. The existence of such a position does much to alleviate the cost of accommodation for students amidst a housing crisis and serves to democratise the access to higher education.  

The role used to guarantee free accommodation until 2017. The existence of such a position does much to alleviate the cost of accommodation for students amidst a housing crisis and serves to democratise the access to higher education.

With a secure space to live on campus and obtaining in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of UCD, the position of RAs is one students learnt to value and appreciate. Its ambitious replacement retains some well-known aspects of the role and simultaneously brings novelty to those who aim to be a liaising figure between the student body and UCD staff. 

Alongside undertaking the mandatory training to equip them for the role, Campus Assistants will retain the ‘entertainment’ side of the RA job by being tasked with fostering a sense of community amongst students. To this end, several teams of CAs will be created — Sports, Arts, Culture, Wellbeing, Gaming; these teams will be required to organise events in their respective remits for students to participate in, and there can be overlaps and collaboration amongst CAs teams and other students groups. Other CAs teams will carry our more technical tasks, including content creation, event logistics and management, and administrative duties. Specifically, the Social Media team and the Photography and Videography team will be also tasked with producing content aimed at informing students of ongoing projects of UCD Estate Services, alongside ensuring a timely flow of content related to ResLife activities. A separate Blackrock team will carry out the same tasks, alongside liaising with the Belfield campus. 

The primary differences between RAs and CAs relate to how the latter will not be required to carry out welfare checks, but will be occasionally asked to “fulfil operational duties such as delivering post, fire checks”, “update and maintain departmental records and databases in accordance with GDPR”, and “report back student feedback and evaluate activities.”

The primary differences between RAs and CAs relate to how the latter will not be required to carry out welfare checks, but will be occasionally asked to “fulfil operational duties such as delivering post, fire checks”, “update and maintain departmental records and databases in accordance with GDPR”, and “report back student feedback and evaluate activities.

As the name implies, the remit of CAs is not limited to Residences, but extends to the broader campus. Nevertheless, another difference this new role has with its predecessor is how living on campus is not a requirement nor a benefit that comes automatically with the job. Indeed, CAs “will be offered a bedroom in a shared bathroom facility on campus but they will not be required to accept it.” However, those who opt to live off-campus will have to ensure they can easily commute to UCD to perform their duties. 

It appears that there was poor communication on UCD’s end with regards to the specifics of the role shift. Indeed, most RAs were outraged at how UCD handled the transitioning of the residential-based job to an open job, even for those who live off-campus. Tara*, a third-year RA spoke to The University  Observer about this change, stating that, “I can see the positive intention behind it, moving away from welfare issues and having employee rights. But I think the way it was communicated is really reflective of the weak leadership across the board — from the upper management to the students leading the team, we’ve been let down and underrepresented.”

“I can see the positive intention behind it, moving away from welfare issues and having employee rights. But I think the way it was communicated is really reflective of the weak leadership across the board — from the upper management to the students leading the team, we’ve been let down and underrepresented.”

She then added, “They also announced it publicly, not even giving us a heads up, after the continuing accommodation list closed, so now there’s no way I can secure accommodation for next year if I don’t get this new job.” 

Emma O’Donnell, a third-year History and Archaeology student who is graduating and leaving the role before the change, told The University Observer, “I think it’s quite a shame the programme has changed, but change isn’t always bad, and maybe it’ll work out for the best. I believe improved communication between Estates and the new Campus Assistants will be essential for the programme to run smoothly and efficiently.” 

Although the roles share more similarities than differences, this sudden change has raised concerns of potential controversies surrounding RAs that has led to their dismissal. Some issues relate to the perceived inadequacy of the training received by RAs, coupled with a lack of professional development throughout the role. On this, Emma revealed, “I learnt most about this role from my shift partner.” This further solidifies the lack of training provided to both new RA’s and those returning to the roles. 

Another issue relates to how RAs are expected to be the first respondents to medical emergencies in UCD Residences — although those occupying the role are students that often lack the appropriate skills for such distressing situations. Furthermore, living such experiences and the pressures derived from the role can take a toll on RAs’ mental health. 

Finally, a frequent feat of on-campus jobs for students is the lack of a responsive Human Resources department. For instance, student workers facing an issue on the job might not feel comfortable coming forward with their experience for fear of losing their job. This inevitably leads to a more tense working environment.

Another issue in this respect is the lack of a proper employment contract. On this matter, a third year Arts student who spoke to The University Observer emphasised the uncertainty that comes with not having a contract, as they were never sure how long they would be able to keep their job. This was demonstrated when the student employee was sent an email last May stating that they would only be able to work for the next ten days, after which their employment would terminate. The student was thus forced to look for alternative employment with no support from UCD, which put a heavy toll on their finances. They returned to the previous job in October 2023, and currently work in a room alongside up to fifteen employees with inadequate equipment and no ventilation nor windows. A request to be transferred to a more suitable space received no response. 

On this matter, a third year Arts student who spoke to The University Observer emphasised the uncertainty that comes with not having a contract, as they were never sure how long they would be able to keep their job.

No access to HR departments, in addition to other factors such as a lack of contracts can undermine the safety and safeguarding, as well as contribute to an absence of job security and heightened anxiety of student employees on campus. In addition, students working in unfit environments with unsuitable resources displays a worrying trend across UCD. 

UCD Estates, UCD Residences, UCD Students’ Union and the UCD Communication Office were contacted but have not commented at this time. 

*Names have been changed for anonymity