Students need to be realistic about bars

In the light of the decision to reconsider B Henry’s, I want to take this opportunity to clarify some financial issues to the student body – so listen up, this is important. 

Universities are funded through a number of income streams for academic purposes: these help to pay for academic buildings, salaries, library facilities, IT, research equipment etc. What is NOT funded is residences and catering. Government feels that this is a commercial endeavour, to be run as such. So we have a Residences and Catering account shown separately in our end-of-year audit.

Thus it is a business. The clue is in the name – ‘Commercial’ Services. It has to break even because we are not allowed to subsidise it from teaching and research accounts (and anyway, what would you lot say if we did and the quality of your academic experience fell as a result?). If we are to get on top of maintenance and refurbishment, it has to stay in profit.  

I’ve seen a website comment arguing that the essence of a college is its communal dining and its bar. Even to me this seems dated – as an undergraduate (c1902), I chose to cook for myself and to drink in the pub rather than the college bar. Substantial numbers now prefer to buy alcohol cheaply in supermarkets other than our own dear Costcutter and drink it in college kitchens. 

Yes, we could underwrite failing enterprises from other parts of the Catering and Residences account. We could charge more for lunchtime sandwiches (you’d go to Brown’s) or we could hike the rents (you’d be demented with rage). Or we could aim for break-even and never have money for refurbishment. The result of any of these measures would perpetuate the problem, and would just shift it from one area to another.

To paraphrase somebody else’s slogan – your Commercial Services: Your profit. Every pound you spend gets reinvested in the Residences and Catering Account.

The economics are stark and simple. Spend your leisure pound in Commercial Services outlets and the profit goes back into providing the best service we can, including the retention of college bars. Spend it in a YUSU outlet, and the benefit goes back to those aspects of university life that they support – societies, welfare and representation. Spend it on a college event and it goes back to the college’s efforts to make your life better. Spend it in Morrisons and you get a bigger better Morrisons. Spend it in Ziggy’s and Ziggy’s pockets the profit. You choose.

We’ll look long and hard at the B Henry’s position, and we’ll look more deeply at wider issues than I could address here, but don’t forget – your pound, your profit. Where there’s a loss, something has to give.


  1. I couldn’t agree more – whenever I bring up the point that the bar isn’t making money, I’m told that it’s the University’s role to provide these sorts of social areas. But, it isn’t the role of a University to provide ‘social areas’ – the University is there for the actual education.
    Anyway, let’s assume that it was the role of the university to provide for a ‘community spirit’ – if that were the case, and such community spirit involved keeping the bar open inspite of making a loss, then why shouldn’t the bar offer subsidised drinks? In fact, why not free? The bar would make a terrible loss, with the University picking up the tab, but it’s all in the name of ‘community’ and maintaining a ‘social life’.

    I spent a year out before coming to University, because I thought I’d need to adjust a bit to life in the real world – working for the majority of it, and then going off to try living on a tight budget in foreign countries – so that I’d be ready to tackle University. I then come here, to find the biggest load of complainers ever, who expect to be have their cake and eat it too.

    And the ridiculous thing is, the complaints are over almost everything except the quality of the education! I wouldn’t mind so much if these were just some minor concerns, but there’s a whole movement mobilised in the name of this; when, may I ask, will we see Humanities students sticking up posters, going on marches across campus, even caring so much as to -although I do not condone it – graffiti private property, all for the sake of getting more contact hours?

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  2. Finally some sound business sense in an article about college bars!

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  3. The bar is making a negligable loss. It’s the only bar across the road. The money ISN’T AN ISSUE. That’s the whole point – it’s a service as well as a bar and when commerical services want to shut it down for just-about-breaking-even it’s a nuisance. If it was making £20,000 losses this wouldn’t be an ongoing argument!

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  4. 26 Nov ’08 at 5:04 am

    Voice of Reason

    I’m not sure I’m going to make many friends with this post, but here goes…

    I actually completely agree with Jane.

    Whilst we all would like the government to fund the “Collegiate” aspect of York, it doesn’t happen like that. We’d all like a bar for every college, en suites, free wifi in our rooms and Sky TV in JCRs. However, if we all take a step back and look at York University (and general University life) we recognise there is miniscule chance of this being a reality.

    To put it into a contempory metaphor, the bar situation can be considered a free market in times of recession – why should the government step in to rescue failing corporations? Sadly B Henry’s does not quite have the sway over York that AIG has over international economies. It is not a disaster for an underperforming, often empty bar to be closed, and money be re-distributed.

    I’ll continue this tomorrow once I’ve reflected on the situation a bit more, so that’s all for now.


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  5. 27 Nov ’08 at 1:06 pm

    Jane Grenville

    I think I just submitted my comment by mistake – it’ll be full of typos and it was unfinished. Here’s some more.

    Jason – the money really IS an issue (which is why I wrote the piece in the first place) and Commercial Services will always keep going with a winner. If it were making a £20k PROFIT, this wouldn’t be an ongoing argument either. But we’ll also, as I suggested in the final paragraph of the original piece, be looking at wider issues – I, for one, will want to look at the global performance of bars (hence my comment to Rory in the previous post).

    Dr A – thanks for the vote of confidence!

    VoR – had any more thoughts yet? To come back to your suggestion, like Rory’s, that the University has no locus in facilitating the student experience – well again, I don’t think that’s quite right. There’s the college sports funding I mentioned, and we block-grant YUSU which pays for societies and representation and we’ve just given the JCRs a substantial grant increase. I’m always looking for a better understanding of what it is that you actually want as a community and that’s a hard ask as I expect there are as many ideas as there are individual students. I don’t have wads of spare cash in my back pocket – but where a good case is made, the University can try to help if it can without compromising the academic endeavour – which is surely the most important aspect for all of you, both now and in the future when you go into the job market with a ‘top ten’ degree behind you.

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  6. 27 Nov ’08 at 1:34 pm

    Jane Grenville

    Ok – so I didn’t submit my first comment – it just disappeared into the ether… I’ll try to reconstruct:

    Rory – it’s good to have your understanding in this but I’d take issue with your contention that the University has no role in providing social facilities. We’re a campus university and a collegiate one and that does carry a sense of ‘community’ with it, which we aim to foster. That’s not achieved simply by pouring money into student activities, of course. The place of students within the governance of the institution, on University committees, in YUSU, the JCRs and on Boards of Studies, is an important aspect of the developmental opportunities that will stand you in good stead in future. Volunteering, societies and York Award activities are also important. But we DO actually take seriously the need for some appropriate social provision – part of the argument is about what counts as ‘appropriate’. A bar would be as appropriate as you like if it paid its way or if the other bars did well enough to cross-subsidise it. Perhaps a bit of healthy competition from YUSU will restore the habit of drinking on campus (though note my comments in the piece on alcohol abuse!).

    A further thought on social provision – this year the VC has paid for recreational college sport from his Discretionary Fund and where that’s been taken up enthusiastically, it’s done a great job of integrating first, second and third years. Where it hasn’t been used, it’s frankly a waste of money that might have been better spent elsewhere (hence my comment to Voice of Reason).

    This has ended up as a very disjointed post – for which apologies. Put it down to the fact that I’m technologically challenged – it’s part of being the age I am…

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  7. To quote an earlier Nouse article, “B Henry’s actually makes a profit of £20,000 a year” (including the café)… and if you consider that closing the bar is likely to cost the food outlet money (for various reasons) then it really isn’t a £7,000 loss per year.

    Not only that but in the last year the loss was less than previous years, YUSU had plans to create a large event in Alcuin that would scoop up a larger amount and could perhaps make it break even.

    Regardless, the point is that the food and drink outlets on campus are a service: I acknowledge that they have to make a profit but B Henry’s IS making a profit. The bar and food outlet are indistinguishable. I don’t understand why Commerical Services don’t see it.

    If the outlet as a whole was making a loss, fair enough. If this was a company then fair enough… but it’s a campus, collegiate, university. Having a college without a bar should be avoided where possible – especially one that isn’t part of the central nucleus of campuses – and when whole outlet is making a profit of £20,000, why is it an issue?

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