The University of York's School of Natural Sciences is set to close next academic year (2024/2025)


Nadia Sayed reports on student's responses to the closure of the School of Natural Sciences next academic year

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By Nadia Sayed

The University of York is set to close its School of Natural Sciences next academic year (2024/2025) following the graduation of all current students.

One student at the University informed Nouse that they were initially disappointed to hear of the closure. However, they also commented: “In my experience, I have felt quite neglected as a Natural Sciences student as we are often forgotten about, left off mailing lists and it doesn’t feel like we get the same support as single science students. I think the closing of the school  could have been avoided if [the] organisation was improved.”  They continued to state that the decision to terminate the course felt rather sudden. “It feels like we were excluded from management decisions about the course. I really liked the idea of Natural Sciences, and that’s why I chose the course, but I have been quite disappointed about its delivery and, in hindsight, wish I had chosen a single science from the offset”.

As stated on the University’s webpage for the School of Natural Sciences, “Following a recent review of provision, the School of NaturalSciences will close to new applicants from September 2024. September 2023 will be the final intake of students.”

Joe Lyne, a Natural Sciences student specialising in Physics at the University, spoke openly to Nouse about how he felt blindsided by the email that announced the school’s closure. The email was sent to students in the middle of the summer.

The third-year student further stated, “No one expected this as Natural Sciences was flourishing, being one of the University’s top courses for quality of teaching, learning resources and much more”. The School was ranked third in the UK in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023 and fifth in the same guide in 2024 for the subject of Natural Sciences. Joe continued there has been a “lack of transparency from the University surrounding their reasoning [for the closure] and that no discussion or input had been from us prior to the decision was very frustrating, and we were concerned [about] how our remaining time at the University would be affected.”

Joe also stated, “A ‘town hall meeting’ was arranged with the Dean[of the Faculty of Sciences, [Professor Andy Dougill] and Associate Dean [Professor Claire Hughes] to allay worries and provide a [clearer] motive behind their decision.” However, Joe highlighted that students still feel dissatisfied with the situation, asserting that the questions asked during the meeting were answered formulaically. “We still felt like we weren’t being given the full picture,” added Joe. Since the meeting, Joe said, thanks to the student representatives, students have been given guarantees as the department closes, including continued access to the standard room and weekly guest speakers.

Nevertheless, Joe still feels concerned about how Natural Science students will be affected. “A lot of the managerial aspects of our course are being absorbed by the Biology Department, which could mean students getting less specialised support. What truly has aggravated me, however, is finding out the primary reason for the University’s decision, which is ... to reduce costs. It is very upsetting to see a university, which is a place of academia, be run like a company. Whilst I am aware that a university should seek to meet its operation costs, it seems like York [and other universities] are becoming much more interested in turning profits and telling investors how much money they saved by scrapping an interesting and enjoyable course.”

However, Joe commended the course, stating, “Studying Natural Sciences at York is such a wonderful and unique experience. As well as providing the opportunity to study interdisciplinary sciences, it offers something so hard to find in many other courses: a large and strong community. Thanks to the common room and weekly socials run by the Natural Sciences Society, you not only become close friends with your own year group but all the other students in other years, too. I can walk into the common room at any time and find someone to chat and laugh with; it is such a positive and familial environment [in which] to learn. It is the main reason I chose to study at York compared to other universities [that] offered the course.”

Finally, Joe remarked although “the University may be saving more money,” he thinks “they will find they have lost something much more irreplaceable.”

Nouse reached out to the University of York, and they said, “We remain fully committed to the current cohort of students, and while there will be some changes to the way the school is managed behind the scenes, our students will continue to receive the normal academic and pastoral support. In this case, our student service steam in Biology, who have supported Natural Sciences students over recent years, are here to help and support.