The Con of the Collegiate System

Can we really call York a collegiate University? Yes we are all owners of the complementary college paraphernalia and have felt duty-bound to attend at least one “wear as little as possible in the name of fancy dress” event at your college bar. But how much does your college allegiance really go beyond those impressionable first months?

The fact of the matter is colleges, to many students, are simply where you happened to end up living in first year. If you didn’t get directly involved in collegiate sport, or if the ambience of B-Henrys or McQs never quite held your interest, there is often little else to incite a soaring college loyalty. While Derwent may be blessed with college spirit to rival that of a Premiership football club, such a loyalty is hardly universal.

While we are a collegiate University on paper, another part of the grand pretence that we have a University heritage that reaches beyond the dark years of the seventies, in reality the University has never fully committed their structure and funding to fully establishing an independent and autonomous collegiate system that extends beyond the pages of the prospectus.

I am not criticising colleges themselves; in truth I think they can promote a much stronger sense of belonging and community than a University that exists en masse. Yet we cannot continue in the purgatory system that embraces the concept of the college on a symbolic level, without providing JCRCs with full resources and independence to operate with some measure of autocracy.

Students at York will never fully engage with their college, or embrace their college spirit for their full three years if it is clear they are to simply remain as a small cog in the strikingly lacklustre University wheel. The struggle for communication that college chairs are currently facing illustrates how little colleges are taken into consideration in the making of overall University policy.

It is about time the University fully committed to this collegiate system, pushing it beyond a gentrified banding of accommodation. Indeed, as much as I am loathe to put this in writing, there is much we can take from our fellow collegiate institutions.

While I don’t advocate the isolationist attitudes the colleges at both Oxbridge and Durham seems to breed, the distinct identities, college orientated spirit and significant financial independence are all qualities universally lacking within the York collegiate system.

While this is hardly a call to arms for students wanting independence for Vanbrugh or autonomy for Alcuin, it highlights how the collegiate system cannot continue to just flaccidly exist, pulled in opposing directions by students and the University. It needs to find its definitive place, position and authority as part of York student life, or it is essential rendered pointless; as one Chair boldly put it, “just simply a marketing ploy.”


  1. Brilliant article! Saying that the University has ‘never fully committed’ to supporting a collegiate system completely sums up the attitude of the powers-that-be. With a little support and strategy from the University, colleges could change the prevailing social norm from apathy towards colleges spirit to open enthusiasm, which would then set the ethos of college identy year upon year.


  2. 1 Jun ’11 at 6:56 pm

    Average Joe student

    Perhaps if we started listening to students about what they want then wed construct a society on campus they actually want to be involved in.

    Its time to GET REAL and FACE UP to the facts. People love the collegiate system (excuse the sarcasm) but all those sell out events in run by colleges week on week. I mean its really really working…. OR NOT

    No offence to anyone who runs those events im sure they work bloody hard, and no offence to the college chairs but the reson you guys are having such a hard time is that you are operating within a collegiate system that is broken and there is a simple reason why:


    Let me explain what I mean by this…The collegiate system was established first in oxford then in cambridge as a means of bringing together multiple teaching establishments across those cities into one institution. The same problem does not exist here, in fact we have two lovely self contained campuses.

    What the university and to a certain extent YUSU has done is the compete opposite of the oxbridge collegiate system. They have problmastised an unproblematic situation whereas at oxbridge they simplified a problematic one. What they (York Uni and YUSU) have done is create a problem which is uneccassery because on a self contained campus the solution is simple. You dont have disperate colleges you have one central place to go and be entertained get your food, get your welfare etc and this fosters in the vast majority of institutions in the country a fairly nice collective spirit and everyone has a lot of fun indeed a LOT more fun than they have here on most weekends.

    This is not the answer im sure most people on JCRCs want to hear and its not designed to offend you. You all work bloody hard to make life better for all of us but we have to go to the root cause of what we are doing wrong when it comes to the community we are trying to create here in york. And I’m afraid the root cause is from my personal intelectual opinion is this confusion over what collegiatisim really is, and that is we dont have it here, we (because of campus situation) cant have it here and its time we stopped pretending we ever had it here.


  3. 1 Jun ’11 at 7:19 pm

    John Riccardo

    Why do you keep mentioning autocracy?

    Do you mean autonomy maybe?


  4. I mostly agree with this article. Despite the “collegiate” system, the university hardly ever bigs it up. It just seems like a handy way to organize accommodation blocks, porters, mail rooms and so on. I imagine it also makes finding rooms around campus a bit easier than if the “system” did not exist.

    Perhaps York should just call the colleges “residential colleges” instead, since there is little else to distinguish between the colleges other than accomodation blocks – the colleges are not in any way shape or form academic bodies distinct from the university as a whole. York should put in some work to change that if it really wants to promote the collegiate system it supposedly has.

    For whether ‘Average Joe Student’ likes it or not, the York campus buildings are organized around the colleges and, judging by the JCRs and sports competitions, at least some students get the “feel” of their college. It would be highly impractical to abandon them. York should push the system, because it has some potential. I disagree about comparing the York system to Oxbridge, though. Oxbrige is Oxbridge. York is something else, and should make something else out of its colleges.

    Also, as far as I know, most of the Durham colleges are financially dependent on Durham University, not to mention there is a lack of college-based teaching at Durham.