New student centre falls short


New design fails to prioritise student interests and needs

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Image by ADP O'Donnell + Tuomey

By Emily Hewat

Throughout my three years at university, some of the most memorable experiences have been thanks to time spent in societies and the friends I’ve made. It has been societies and friendships that have kept most of us sane throughout deadlines and dissertations, so a space designed specifically for these groups is long overdue at the University.

It therefore came as a shock tome to see that the new “student centre” revealed by the University in the past few weeks is seemingly not focused on students at all. Activities Officers have been campaigning for student spaces year on year and yet in York’s £60 million development, it appears students have been forgotten once again.

In their announcement, the University has highlighted how the office spaces, dining areas, study spaces androoftop gardens will “help enhance the student experience at York.” I admit a roof garden certainly sounds appealing when studying in warm weather and while I am not a fan of the triangular ‘cheese grater’ design,the new build could be seen as a breath of fresh air from the brutalist architecture.
But to me, the student experience is about far more than just new study spaces and it's concerning that the University has not realised this. Rather than promoting safe spaces that are solely for students, this new building appears overwhelmingly corporate.

The focus on office spaces indicates that the University is more interested in hiring out to professionals than ensuring students have the space they need to meet safely for extra curricular activities. Students have been crying out for a campus night club for years and yet there is no mention of any bar or club in this new building. If the University is going to spend £60 million on a new student centre, a place for students that do not currently feel safe in the city’s night-clubs should have been a priority.

So why has the University hit so far off the mark? Their fatal flaw was to consult students on a new student centre after the key decisions have already been made. Only now has a webpage opened for students to express their thoughts. For many it will be too little too late.
If the University had consulted the wider student body before planning started, they may have realised that students do not need a new corporate metal monstrosity. Students need a space for societies that is better than the Unity Health building. We need a nightclub for those who feel nervous about making the trip into town.We need affordable accommodation on campus – the £60 million investment might have been better placed in the refurbishment of Derwent accommodation.
None of us have forgotten the accommodation issues that have plagued the University this year with some students being forced to stay in Hull for the start of first term.In February Nouse reported that this cost the University £293,000 making it a problem they cannot afford to repeat in September. The new colleges do little to ease this pressure as for many they will be unaffordable with prices at Anne Lister starting at £169 per week. In order for students to have a good student experience, they first need to be able to live on-campus if required and investing money in offices rather than accommodation is out of touch.

To ask students after the plans have been announced makes it feel like we were an afterthought, an experience we are becoming all too familiar with. There is no doubt that the University worked incredibly hard to support students over the past couple of years and that the situation has been largely out of their hands. But in the years of disruption from strikes and Covid-19, students have begun to feel they do not matter to universities and not consulting students on a new ‘student centre’ is not helping to tackle this sentiment.

A new student centre should be a moment of celebration for students, a chance to expand societies and make the student experience a real focus.Instead I feel deflated; this was an opportunity for the University to show it puts students at the centre of its actions and it was an opportunity wasted. This building will undoubtedly look lovely on the cover of brochures and Open Day programmes but the University should be focusing on the students that are already here rather than focusing their efforts on attracting new ones.

A new student centre will never cater to everyone’s individual wants and there will be some students who will welcome new study and dining spaces. But for many, the study spaces we already have are sufficient and the money would have been better spent elsewhere. I hope that it is not too late and that the University will take student feedback on board and rewrite their plans. If more space cannot be allocated to students then more detail needs to be provided on how ‘office spaces’are going to enhance the student experience as currently I’m struggling to see the connection.

This University prides itself on providing an excellent student experience and for the most part it does. But it now needs to prove that it can listen to students and make their needs the real focus of this new student centre.