Picture perfect?

Our University brochures tell a false story.

Heslington East, the massive expansion of our university that gained approval from the Government in May following a protracted planning application process, has been debated in this publication and elsewhere far too much for it to be worthwhile for me to add my two penn’orth.

However, it struck me that this huge and extremely expensive construction project was just the tip of the iceberg. When I returned to York at the beginning of October, I found a campus that in places better resembled a building site than an esteemed educational establishment.

This has caused some significant inconvenience to many freshers (as Nouse reported in the previous issue) – hardly an impressive start to their university career. But what about those who haven’t already committed themselves to coming here?

It may have escaped the attention of many of you, but the Friday before Freshers’ Week saw the annual October Open Day, when thousands of starry-eyed secondary school kids wandered along the concrete banks of our beloved artificial lake, parents in tow, to get a taste of what life is like at one of Britain’s best universities.

What they saw surely could not have impressed them much. New accommodation blocks still in the state of a building site, an ugly chipboard wall lining the Vanbrugh bank of the lake, several ‘automatic’ doors that need a bit of encouragement, and countless areas in need of a good lick of paint.

Let’s hope none of them got as far as Derwent, where that big green sign (still) proudly predicts completion of work by the end of September. As for the accommodation blocks, is it really any surprise that tours were largely restricted to James and Alcuin?

Because of course, when one ascends that twisting walkway, crosses the University road (maybe catching a glimpse of one of those beautiful buses as you go) and sets eyes upon the striking library and its neighbouring buildings, one’s impression of the University becomes quite different.

And that’s exactly my point about Heslington East. The new campus, when – if – it’s eventually finished, will undoubtedly be a learning and living environment to be proud of, and the University will rightly be proud to advertise it to prospective students, but one fears for the future of the original buildings – once-impressive concrete structures, some of which must surely be reaching the end of their shelf life.

The next few years, in particular, is likely to see a serious dearth of investment in the maintenance of what is after all the nucleus of the University, as money is pumped into giving some nearby green-belt fields a spectacular new look. Not to mention the on-campus construction of the new buildings at Vanbrugh, which will only stick out like a particularly ugly opposable digit in the midst of structures from a different age.

But so long as the website and prospectus can continue to carry pictures of shiny white buildings and smiling students (with the odd picturesque shot of Heslington Hall thrown in for good measure), those dreamy teenagers will continue to set their hearts on this place. It’s a shame they will experience the kind of nasty surprise that has greeted so many freshers upon their arrival at York and its campus of contrasts.

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