Thorns in sides and happy marriages – Canning v Oliver

Anne Marie Canning, YUSU President, and Matt Oliver, debate the issue of JCRC funding exclusively for Nouse

Anne Marie Canning, YUSU President, and Matt Oliver, Vanbrugh Chair, debate the issue of JCR Funding

Anne Marie Canning argues:

Back in the day when I was James College chair I was an absolute thorn in the side of YUSU. I would argue every point and kick up a fuss over the most minor thing. But after squabbling my way through a YUSU meeting I would pick up posters for the next UGM and stick them up for the union.

JCRCs are autonomous but also need lots of support from YUSU, not least financial. Any talk of JCRC disaffiliation is nonsensical and sensationalist. JCRCs must recognise that the relationship between themselves and YUSU must be symbiotic. They must understand the bigger picture.

YUSU is funded by a block grant, a chunk of money given to us by the university. We receive £83 per student which adds up to around £700,000. Our JCRCs receive £16,000 per year. (As a quick comparator, our 110 societies receive around £33,000.) JCRC funding increased by £4,000 last year. It was I who argued for that. I have been a college chair, I understand the challenges the JCRCs face, but everyone wants more money and the YUSU purse isn’t bottomless.

A myth has been circulating that JCRCs receive only £1 per student. To clear this up JCRCs receive the following: £1 per fresher, £1.50 per kitchen, £100 from the Silent Students Happy Homes campaign, £200 for RAG, £50 for Student Action, £750 for college sport, £150 sports training subsidy and First Aid training for 6 people. There is also money left over from which the JCRCs can then bid for additional items. They also get money from: event income, pool table income, vending income, sponsorship, generous donations from the Provost, as well as other areas where profit may be made, such as merchandise.

I was over at Lancaster for Roses last weekend and their JCRC system is very comparable to ours. Their union allocates the money to the JCRCs just like us. The University would never want to allocate directly – they don’t want the time consuming responsibility of deciding who gets a new trophy cabinet or microphone. At YUSU Finance Committee we try to address the inequalities between the colleges to ensure all students get a fair deal.

I’m all up for a debate about funding here at York, just as long as we use correct figures and do it in the right way. Misinforming students does everyone an injustice.
We are a students’ union, every member of every college is also a member of YUSU so we achieve more by working together. With the dawn of Heslington East on the horizon this is a time when the JCRCs and YUSU must work together more than ever. And let’s face it, that is where the real expenditure lies in this University.

Matt Oliver says:

The marriage between the SU and the JCRCs is not always a happy one. We disagree on many things and the communication between us is not always as good as it should be. With the completion of the governance review, however, we have the opportunity to redraft the SU constitution and I hope that many of the flaws in the system will be fixed. The members of JCR committees play a huge part in the work undertaken by the SU and, accordingly, we feel that we should have been consulted in the original review. But we weren’t, so all we can do is hope to be involved in the reforms.

York currently ranks 56th in a league table denoting the amount of money invested in Staff and Student facilities – for all our differences I suspect that both the JCRCs and the SU agree that figure is simply not good enough. We are around forty places below Lancaster and two below York St. John. To put those figures in perspective, for just an extra £1 per student the colleges could afford to provide the facility for free sport for everyone in the University. That’s 0.03% of our annual tuition fees. The investment we want is not astronomical.

It’s not the SU that is at fault; it’s the system. The issue is not so much to do with the amount of money that the JCRCs receive from the SU but on the fact that we are reliant on them at all. The SU has to make sure that everyone gets fair treatment with the little money that they allocate. Why should one college be given x amount of money to buy a TV when another isn’t given a comparable sum? There simply isn’t enough money available. The JCRCs can operate on current levels of funding, they’ve proven that for years, but we don’t want to just operate, we want to make things better. We want to improve what we have, and we can’t do that with this funding.

Improvements need to be made. For a University that prides itself on its “vibrant college system” we’re not delivering. College spirit is declining. Without investment in our bars, our common rooms, our sports, and our college activities the JCRCs can try their hardest, but there’s only so much difference that we can make. I believe that declining college spirit has had an impact on student satisfaction; which is low. York, accordingly, has dropped in the league tables and this has a direct and negative impact on the perceived value of our hard earned degrees.

Ultimately, the JCRCs (and I’m sure the SU) would love more money, and to be honest I don’t care who invests in student facilities so long as someone does. Students at York deserve more than adequate investment and more than adequate facilities. We deserve the very best that is possible because heaven knows we’re all paying enough to be here.

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