Heslington East should not be controversial. All of the arguments (of which there are some good ones) against University expansion are quashed by a bottom-line that undercuts all other bottom-lines; Heslington East is good business. As we are increasingly thrown out onto the tough streets of the free market, good business means good University.
I really do sympathise with the arguments against expansion. More students might mean worse relations with the local community – too great a presence of any one social group in a community is going to provoke a dislike for that social group. Even if we stop stealing traffic cones, the community will like us less because there will be more of us.
It should also be assumed that the new accommodation is going to be better than much of what we have now (if it is not, there is a problem). I think that this will have one of two effects. On one hand, the University could charge more for accommodation in the new colleges. This will surely polarise our community, with the poorer students going for cheaper, poorer quality options and wealthier students spending more and getting more.
On the other hand, the University could charge similar amounts for all of the accommodation of varying quality – this is more like the current practice. This is unfair. The solution? Put the money set aside for Heslington East into improving the buildings that we already have.
Also, academics and students should be troubled by the fact that the site covers a large area of ‘greenfield’ designated land. I thought, perhaps naively, that we had reserved this land so that we don’t cover our country with concrete. Even when we have poured the concrete on, I doubt how much of it will be used to the advantage of students – at least a third of the site will be designed in the mode of Alcuin Science Park. But that will attract companies to invest, and that is good business.
Given the commercial nature of education today, I cannot see far past the argument for expansion as a business move, unless the rest of the country could plump up the cash.
I am willing to pay higher taxes in my later life to improve universities, just as I do not begrudge the fact that I will pay taxes for four-year-olds to go to primary schools. Four-year-olds do not produce anything that I want, but education of people improves society. I do not hold the common view. The common position is to take now and think later. Heslington East is necessary because of Britain’s attitude problem.