Financial burdens on students will be eased as the result of a new Equity of Provision report which has targeted hidden course costs. The recommendations of the 6000-word report, which has been completed by Union President, James Durcan, and Academic Officer, James Hare, have been agreed to by the University with the aim of combating expenses for essential elements of courses such as printing and equipment costs. Tackling disparities between departments affecting the student experience and reducing hidden course costs have been a main priority for Sabbatical Officers in recent years.
The report is the culmination of an extended consultation process began by former Union President, Alex Urquhart, last year. While the method of implementation of some of the accepted proposals remains to be confirmed, the agreement is one of the most notable accomplishments of the current Sabbatical team. Departments will have to factor the agreed proposals into their budgets. The bridge money to fund them over the next couple of years, however, is to be taken from the pot of withheld staff pay as a result of the industrial action last academic year. Graduands at last year’s July and this year’s January graduation ceremonies had their gowns paid for from the same pot, a cost which will also be covered for graduands in this July’s ceremonies. The proposals agreed in the Equity of Provision report are further examples of a repatriation of funds to students for lost teaching time.
One of the main areas of agreement pertains to essential printing costs. The University has agreed to fund the printing and binding of dissertations for students from next term. This could work by reimbursement of students, by departments receiving electronic copies which they then print, or by another method. It has also been agreed that printing costs for other assessments, as another example of essential printing, will be tackled. Although the precise definition of “essential” printing remains to be determined, the University will explore how it distributes printing credits, and will investigate phasing out physical submissions altogether, to ease financial burdens as well as to be more environmentally friendly.
The University has agreed to tackle costs faced by some science students. Biology undergraduate students, for example, will receive their lab coats for free. The University has also committed to find ways of reducing laundry expenses for students of Health Sciences. Students on these courses must clean their clothes after every day while on their placements which can incur large laundry bills. While some students live at home during their placements, some live on campus and some elsewhere. The University will explore ways that the financial strain of laundry can be reduced, either by evaluating campus Circuit Laundry schemes or by other methods.
There are some other broader ways that the University has agreed to combat costs. One is a disabled students’ allowance to ensure that students with disabilities can get the medical certification they need to access relevant services. It was reported by Nouse in November that this has been a pressing concern for many students with disabilities at York. Secondly, there is the aim to establish a greater on-campus book buyback and resale scheme, so
students aren’t left out of pocket due to book costs. Finally, there is the objective to create long-term laptop loan schemes for students at all levels of study, so that all can participate fully in their degree courses.
This is a scheme that already exists for postgraduate students, but the University has agreed that this should be expanded to undergraduate students too. Some other issues were raised which will require further consultation before proposals for action can be agreed. One such issue is that of travel expenses for students who have contact hours at King’s Manor in the centre of town. Students who need to travel into town for their contact hours currently need to foot the bill should they travel by bus, but further discussion is needed to establish how essential travel expenses are to be defined. Nouse understands that there may need to be a wider debate concerning a University-wide travel policy before such issues can be properly resolved.
Union President, James Durcan, commented on the results of the report: “This is the culmination of a long process that started last year with Alex Urquhart’s Equity of Provision report and has resulted in a number of recommendations being adopted that will be hugely beneficial to students. Our work looked at the biggest obstacles facing students in terms of hidden costs, and while we are aware there is still more we can do moving forward, we think the impact of what we have achieved cannot be understated.”
A University of York spokesperson said the: “Equity of Provision Report will be one of the areas to receive funds from monies withheld from staff salaries during last year’s industrial action. Developed over the last 18 months through the Together York partnership projects, the Equity of Provision report will address areas where students in different departments face additional costs to complete their university degree. Other projects that have or will receive monies include supporting student-led and partnership activity in student mental health, raising sexual violence awareness, free gown hire for July 2019 graduations, the student hardship fund, the GSA summer programme and activities associated with this year’s Roses tournament.”