With the introduction of the college membership fee next year and increased university investment in colleges, I think it is important to consider where our collegiate system is and what exactly they should provide. The fee is only justifiable if it improves the range and quality of opportunities available to students and the support they get from their college.
A modern approach
Many of the colleges around the world are centuries old or are built on the model set out by the Oxbridge and Durham Universities. Our colleges are not and I for one think this is a strength because we believe in 21st century values.
Consider that at three colleges in Durham their Junior Common Room head is known as the ‘Senior Man’ irrespective of their gender. In many colleges across the world they have morals and standards which are of a similar age to their buildings.
This simply would not happen in our colleges. We have colleges that support movements for equality and who are not embedded in archaic tradition. This must continue.
The additional investment by students into colleges must come with a greater focus on integration of all students. This is difficult when for many, colleges are simply a foreign concept as we do little to sell the system to potential international students.
We put up a major barrier to integration in our colleges by the fact that we separate out people with different let lengths in accommodation. Fifty-one week lets are desirable for many international students who wish to stay for their summer in York. However, when many home students opt for 39 weeks, this is an immediate barrier to establishing the diverse mix of students we aim for.
There is also the need for inclusive activity to support interaction with one another. We must consider why more of our international contingent are not getting involved in college sport, attending events and running in elections.
One thing I have been banging on about in every University committee I sit on is the importance of maintaining a range in the price of accommodation.
This is vital as over the next 10 years Derwent, Vanbrugh and James will be demolished and rebuilt on Heslington West. These are our cheapest blocks and we cannot build £127 a week replacements. Also important is ensuring that these rebuilt colleges have study, social and catering provision.
These facilities help a college become a community and efforts must be made to extend the provision available in all colleges across campus.
Our student committees have been the leading lights of colleges for many years and they must continue to do so for years to come. However, I believe one thing should change – the name and role of ‘Welfare Reps’.
Thankfully, many Junior Common Room Committees and Student Associations have changed the name and description of the role recently. It is important that someone on a college committee is in charge of running proactive campaigns, providing information for students and signposting students to the professional services available at the University.
Welfare does not describe this properly and in fact we have seen students in those roles performing duties out of their remit and outside of what they are trained to do, and this is dangerous. Those who have been reps are students who worked tirelessly. This should never be discredited but it is time to move forward.
We will have a full-time Head of College, a properly trained and managed tutor team. It’s time our committees stay out of ‘welfare’.
The quality of the Freshers’ Weeks this year, which were predominantly delivered by the college committees, was excellent. They are really switching on to providing a programme which offers something for everyone.
However, Freshers’ Week is still a time which alienates many people from collegiate life and I challenge the newly elected committees and the full complement of Heads and Assistant Heads of Colleges to develop a week which integrates everyone.
A final word
This is not exhaustive. Other key areas of improvement are in the introduction of proper college outreach programmes, soft skill development at a college level and the postgraduate experience. I would like to hear about your college experiences and what you would like to change. Please email me at [email protected]