The University and LUSU have agreed to set up a working group to discuss issues surrounding the future of the college system. The Vice-Chancellor, Paul Wellings, has given his support to the project and requested the group be set up in time to present its findings by July of this year.
It is hoped that the move will go some way to appeasing students who feel let down by the University’s recent conduct in regards to the colleges. In particular the centralisation of the college bars.
The Vice-Chancellor asked that the group be formerly set up at the start of February. The request followed on from a report to University Council by LUSU President, Michael Payne, who asked Council members to back the Union in attempting to set up a dialogue between student representatives and Senior University Management. Since then Mr. Payne has been working closely with Professor Amanda Chetwynd, Pro Vice-Chancellor (College and Student Experience), finalising the organisation and aims of the group.
Mr. Payne, who has been talking with the Vice-Chancellor about the possibility of setting up a group for some time, is cautiously optimistic that the LUSU/Senior Officers Committee will take heed of recommendations made by the group. “This could be seen as lip service,” he said. “But I think the important thing to focus on is that there is an offer being made. I think the important thing for us is to not naysay from the sidelines, but to engage the opportunity irrespective of the motivation and prerogative behind it. The ball is in our [the student’s] hands and we need to grasp it.”
President of Cartmel JCR, Robbie Pickles, also saw the move as a positive. He said: “The working group being set up by the Vice-Chancellor is a positive step in the right direction. It shows that the University has listened to its students and is concerned about the future of the colleges. It means that the Save the Bars campaign was a success.”
The Lancaster University Labour Club, who have been actively engaged in the college campaign, were also pleased with the Vice-Chancellor’s decision. Richard Bennett, the Club’s Campaigners Officer said: “This is a significant step forward, if and only if, the University intends this as an opportunity to listen to students. If not, it is meaningless exercise designed to stifle criticism and ignore students. It is also important that LUSU is prepared to engage with and listen to it’s membership about the future of their college bars, other college facilities and their college itself. Our campaign has widespread student backing, as well as support from alumni, lecturers, college staff and members of University Court, such as Councillor Eileen Blamire and Clive Grunshaw. Such a coalition cannot be ignored.”
The exact agenda of the group has yet to be decided on, however the College Tutor System has been highlighted as one area of concern for students. The involvement of non-academic staff in the SCRs may also be brought up.
College bars and social space, although likely to be debated, will not however be the main focus of the group. It is currently being taken up by the Bars Advisory Group as a separate issue. “This is not about the price of a pint,” said Mr. Payne. “This is about the colleges, and how they will be in the future.”
According to Professor Chetwynd the working group with include “JCR and SCR representatives to look at ways of enhancing the vitality of the Colleges for all students. Recommended actions from the review will be considered by the joint committee and any actions not within the powers of this group will be forwarded to UMAG (University Management Advisory Group) for routing to relevant parties.”
As well as the working group a separate review is also underway into the role of the colleges in academic life. This review is likely to recommend that any barriers preventing academic staff from engaging with the colleges, be removed within reason. It is also like to cite the diversity of populations within colleges and suggest that more be done to cater for different tastes.
In a recent survey carried out by the University on student experience at Lancaster, almost 80 per cent of home undergraduates said they were satisfied with the events put on by their colleges. International students however, were mostly unsatisfied.
Professor Chetwynd will be setting up a MyPlace site for student to discuss ways to “enhance the Lancaster Colleges” and welcomes any ideas.