Image Credit: University of York
With the release of Nouse’s 500th edition, the Vice-Chancellor Charlie Jeffery agreed to talk about the issues dominating student life as the academic year draws to a close. With the recent reveal of the designs for the new student centre on campus, students have started to debate whether the University is keeping to its promise of consulting students.
When asked whether he was excited about the new centre, Jeffery said: “There’s a lot to do, and a lot of infrastructure that needs to be worked on. It offers a space for societies to do things in appropriate space, and more recreational space in general. We have missed that in York and I think many students feel the same.”
Many students have questioned on social media whether the £65 million cost attached to the building is money well spent. In 2021, the University decided to reduce the number of hours in which college receptions would be open. Previously open to students for 24hrs, the new reduced times meant that students can now only receive support between 7am-11pm. The 24-hour service has been replaced with mobile respondents, intensifying rising concerns over student safety.
The Vice-Chancellor highlighted that future generations would benefit from the new centre, as “It’s going to be there for 50 years or 60 years or more. It’s going to be the prime location for student life for that period.” The University is at a disadvantage in comparison to other universities in that students do not currently have a large student centre on campus where they can go to for work and socialising.
Jeffery alluded to this point when he remarked that “When you look at that period of time, and the limited facilities we have in this university, I think absolutely it is the right thing.”
Sophie Kelly, YUSU’s Activities Officer, has expressed concerns that the University has already finalised plans for the building; despite the University emphasising that the process of consultation is not yet complete. The VC reiterated that “It’s a long process” and mentioned the involvement of Patrick O’Donnell, YUSU President, and his predecessors Samara Jones and Ollie Martin in the consultation process.
Covid-19 hasn’t helped the speed of this consultation process, as the VC said that “We might be further along the process without Covid by now.” Jeffery said he didn’t recognise the suggestion that students haven’t been consulted, as “we have had various student engagement including a wide range of student societies” and students have had the opportunity to express their opinions on “an open student portal.”
However, Sophie told Nouse that some students were finding this portal difficult to navigate. The VC wanted to reassure students that “we haven’t quite figured out what we are doing inside the student centre” and “how we are going to configure the space.” Currently, the plans for the student centre allocate only one very small space for all student media outlets. Nouse therefore asked Jeffery whether he was supportive of promising the University’s media publications more space to guarantee their continued ability to hold the University and YUSU to account.
The VC wouldn’t be drawn specifically on the space for student media groups but acknowledged that “The student media provision here is outstanding and we should nurture that.” Jeffery suggested that the centre needed to provide specialised spaces for “all student media, including radio and TV.”
The VC refused to promise that Nouse and other media groups would be given more space, as he said “I’m not going to say we will give you more space, but it is a conversation we need to have with students.”
The VC wanted to make clear that the process of consultation was still ongoing. With the University putting students’ needs at the centre of their plans for the building, Nouse asked the VC whether he would personally reach out to students across campus to hear their perspectives on new centre. Jeffery outlined his intention to “travel around the University in Autumn and engage with students in a way I haven’t been able to before.”
The University is facing unprecedented demand for accommodation on campus, and Nouse therefore asked the VC how he would ensure that any new accommodation was affordable. The VC highlighted that a lot depends on students’ preferences, as “there will be lots of private accommodation in the city that students will have to make the decision whether to pay the price.” When the University builds new accommodation on campus, the VC said that “we need to make sure there are a range of price points, and that is a really strong commitment.”
The University is currently facing an accommodation shortage, as “a lot of our old accommodation really needs replacing, and we need more.” A new approach to the accommodation shortage is working with York St John University. The VC said that there had been talks with the fellow University about the problem, as he said that “We are also talking with York St John about co-developing spaces in the city, and will be doing that with a developer party.”
Jeffery recognised that providing accommodation with varying prices was extremely important, as he argued that plans for developing new accommodation “can’t just be big studios that are really expensive, but they should be for a range of budgets.” He added: “It could mean plenty of things, townhouse developments where you don’t have ensuites and can use the space more effectively.”
When questioned about how he would help students with rising living costs, the VC said that three things were exceptionally important. Firstly, looking at “hardship support funding and bursaries”. He said that any plans had to be directed towards those “most in need.” Jeffery also expressed worries that students were entering exploitative contracts, as he said “ I worry that contracts students enter for private sector housing often include bills, and landlords might try to revisit that which they cannot its a signed contract, but if students do not have the right advice, they might end up in the wrong position.”
A large number of students have to undertake part-time work alongside their studies in order to keep afloat, and the VC was therefore asked how the University would support students with these greater financial challenges. Jeffery showed an awareness to the escalating living costs, and said “I suspect more students will feel the need to do a couple of shifts to ensure they can afford things, and I think there is more things we can do to ensure opportunities for casual work are easily accessible.”
The VC highlighted that students were lucky to benefit from a thriving hospitality sector in York, as he said “York is booming as a hospitality place, and many bars and restaurants are short staffed.”
As students pick up Nouse ’s 500th edition on Tuesday, the VC was asked which section he normally turns to first when he picks up a newspaper. "Sport" because of “Manchester City” he exclaimed. “They were rubbish” but “they’ve been better in recent years”, he said. Although, the VC implied that if a no confidence Boris Johnson story was trending, then his attention would switch to this.