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YUSU President’s Open Letter to new VC


Over the past year, I’ve invested a lot of time into the recruitment of York’s next Vice-Chancellor - who was recently announced as Charlie Jeffery.

It was crucial that the student voice was taken seriously throughout the process and that we appointed a VC who cared about the student experience at York. Encouragingly the opinions put forward by various students through the consultation phase were at the heart of the recruitment. In addition, the Sabbs sat on a focus group to grill the candidates on the key student issues at York and spoke about the need for the Uni to be more transparent in communications. And the GSA President and I sat on the Joint Committee which shortlisted and appointed our new Vice-Chancellor.

The field of candidates was extremely strong and I was very impressed by the panel’s commitment to E&D throughout the process, which was picked up on by every candidate and fed into much of the discussion. Charlie Jeffery has achieved a great deal at Edinburgh, and I am most excited about:

1) How he spoke about widening participation in terms of diversifying York and expanding opportunities for students from working class backgrounds in the local region;

2) How he drove forward a cultural change programme at Edinburgh to enhance the student experience which encompassed teaching and learning and sought to strengthen the student voice

3) How he aspires to improve links with the city and local community, as well as wider afield

As encouraging as it was to see students having a growing influence, there’s still so much more to be done in terms of the University giving the student voice a seat at the table and caring more about student concerns. Therefore, I have written then open letter to Charlie, along with the incoming YUSU President - Samara Jones - to share with our incoming VC the importance of student representation here at York as well as some of the biggest challenges we face…

 

Dear Professor Jeffery,

We are writing this open letter to you to congratulate you on your appointment to the role of Vice Chancellor and to welcome you to the University of York, as 2018/9 and 2019/20 YUSU Presidents. We hand over from one sabbatical officer team to the other at the start of July and look forward to representing students’ views to you and the University when you join our community later in the summer.

Student representation at York has been an important part of the institution’s history. It was students who proposed the learning and teaching should be more dynamic and more focused resulting in the creation of ‘with a placement’ degrees. It was students who expressed concern about the absence of good quality teaching space resulting in the building of Spring Lane Teaching Building. It was students who asked the Vice-Chancellor to establish a bursary scheme (Equal Access Scholarships) for asylum seekers and subsequently helped to fund raise to increase the amount of paid places available. It was students from our International Students Association who said that international student fees should not increase after the commencement of study at York. It was the Union who proposed to the previous Vice-Chancellor a commission and independent review into student mental health which resulted in ‘The Graham Report’. It was the Union which took the lead on the recently adopted ‘Equity of Provision Report’ which has addressed substantial hidden course costs, such as the printing and binding of dissertations. Student voice and partnership is an essential part of the success of the University of York and it was one of the reasons why we wanted to stand to become elected officers.

While much has been achieved through student voice it is important to be clear that we feel there is much more for us to work on at York. There are long standing issues which affect students’ lives and which we, and everyone at the University of York, have a responsibility to explore and try to find solutions to.

The cost of rent for students both on and off campus has increased dramatically and the latest HESA statistics show levels of profiteering from student rents at over £5m per year after conferencing, refectory and other income and expenditure is removed. This is driven by continual price increases, frequently above inflation and the perpetual building of accommodation exclusively at the premium end of the market. We must find a way to stop this as it becomes less and less affordable for some to choose to study at York.

The absence of buildings on campus that support and enable our personal development and lifestyle is a long standing frustration. No storage space for clubs and societies, the continual failure to build flat floor space into new buildings, the prolonged closure of Central Hall for refurbishment resulting in the displacement of some of our performance groups, the absence of a student centre building. We want York to be a campus where students can create together, perform together, meet, play, debate and we need to establish the spaces that enable student lifestyles to thrive. Students should be actively involved in shaping and understanding those plans with opportunities to contribute to the campus master planning process and information on this published and updated continually.

While York benefits from a great student body, one which is altruistic, creative, and ambitious, we have for too long ignored the statistically low level of BAME students joining us. York can be one of the most inclusive and richly diverse populations around in some areas, yet that is not the case for BAME students. As an institution, York must do more to ask ourselves why this is the case and seek to understand the barriers to study at York for the undoubted potential of BAME students that exist at other Universities. More needs to be done to understand the lived experience of the BAME scholars and students who are at York, and we believe you will have a key role to play in supporting and promoting these conversations. We also see alarming evidence within the NSS that disabled student satisfaction is statistically poor in comparison to student satisfaction and experience for others. We need to ensure that York promotes and celebrates equality and diversity at every level and builds a strength of community where everyone is welcome regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, nationality, disability.

We are really looking forward to the dynamism and direction that you will bring to the University, and we will be sure to do all we can to ensure that the student voice is at the heart of all that activity the University undertakes over the upcoming years. Our students share a strong pride in being part of York and we hope that this will shine through and reflect on all the work you undertake as the Vice Chancellor at the University of York.

 

Best wishes,

 

James Durcan,

YUSU President 2018/19

Samara Jones,

YUSU President 2019/20