Next January marks the culmination of years of planning by University chiefs, as a public inquiry returns a verdict on plans to build a second campus on greenfield land, a move that will eventually see student numbers swelling by as much as 50%. Complaints that the inquiry has been prejudiced from the beginning toward developers and against local residents, coupled with the University’s knowing confidence that Government backing will be secured, suggest a foregone conclusion that ought to be alarming to all whose main concern is that York maintains its high academic standards, and offers the best possible experience to future students.
Equally important is how the expansion will affect the ten thousand or so students already here, and those who will arrive in the years to come before the new campus opens for business. Although York’s minor slip in this year’s league tables is hardly cause for panic, it might be a harbinger of problems to come if resources are diverted away from day-to-day concerns to pay for spiralling construction costs. This must not be allowed to happen, and bland assurances from University bosses will not suffice to ensure that it doesn’t.
If handled properly, expansion could be a great step forward for the University and its students: indeed, as often as they might seem at odds, the two have mutual interests that run far deeper than the skirmishes that so often distract from them. The University needs to attract the best faculty, who want to teach the brightest students; in turn, students want to be taught by academics who are capable of exciting and inspiring them. So it is that staff and students depend entirely on each other: both are equally crucial to the University’s success.
The challenge is to satisfy all the competing concerns that are involved in any change of this scale, a balancing act that University bosses must acknowledge in deed as well as word. That means working to improve the lot of students today who, behind all the petty complaining, have genuine grievances that are being ignored. Like what? Try a library preserved from the 1970s, residences stuck in the 1960s, and a campus social life moored securely to the 1920s. In short, if things don’t get better now, campus two won’t change a thing. A kick up the arse? Take note, Brian: we’ll keep on kicking until we’re moving into a shiny new Nouse office, built upon Heslington’s green and pleasant land.