Freshers denied campus accommodation as priority given to Clearing students

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The University has oversubscribed on the number of clearing and adjustment students it has accepted, resulting in the number of on-campus rooms being insufficient to house all incoming first-year students. Many students who put Lancaster as their insurance UCAS choice have instead been offered accommodation in Lancaster itself.

Of the 168 insurance accepts 90 will be housed in Cable Street accommodation, City Block or the University of Cumbria’s Lancaster campus. Insurance students were not given guarantees of on-campus accommodation, though students accepted through clearing and adjustment were.

In an interview with SCAN , Deputy Vice Chancellor Atherton discussed the decision to guarantee on-campus accommodation to clearing students, and not to insurance students. He explained that the previous year, Lancaster did not enrol any students who had accepted Lancaster as their insurance choice, and that the unpredictable nature of student cohorts comprised of those who chose Lancaster as an insurance choice carried the risk of many, many on-campus rooms being empty.

On August 28th, LUSU President Joel Pullan met with Deputy Vice Chancellor Atherton to discuss possible support packages for insurance students having to move into off-campus accommodation. As a result, insurance students having to live off campus have been offered a choice of the University of Cumbria’s Lancaster based accommodation, City Block or Cable Street, and have promised waived College membership fees and a bus pass. Students opting to live in the UCUM accommodation are also being granted food vouchers for use in the local refectory.

Off-campus first-years will be placed in flats with other members of their college, and they will have a team of off-campus fresher reps in order to help them get involved in college and campus activities. All of the off-campus students have been assigned to one of the five most central colleges – County, Bowland, Furness, Fylde and Grizedale.

The announcement of the package came after several weeks of the University’s accommodation arm’s attempts to nullify the effect of the oversubscription. On August 22nd, in an unprecedented act, existing on-campus students were emailed to be told that they would be allowed to be released from their residential contract. “Occasionally students request to be released from their accommodation contract and normally we would not be in a position to grant that release” the email read.

“This year however we are prepared to make an exception for a short period of time.”

Existing on-campus students were told that if they had been considering other accommodation alternatives and  wished to be released from their contracts they could contact their residence officer by August 27th in order to do so.

A separate email was then sent on August 29th to incoming students who would have to live off campus.

“While we are working to ensure that the majority of students are placed on campus, due to high demand we are unable to provide on-campus accommodation for all first year students” the email read. “We would like to reiterate that the university will arrange accommodation for all first year students, either in town or on campus.”

On the same day, the Students’ Union released a statement on their website expressing their dismay at the way in which the University has handled admissions and accommodation this year:

“The Students’ Union feel that the University’s decision to guarantee on-campus accommodation to clearing students failed to take into account the number of off-campus first years this would produce.

“Moving to university can be a stressful time, made more worrying when an element of your student experience becomes uncertain; and we expect the University to take full responsibility for their actions.”

Some of those students affected by the University’s policy were said to be angry, several of whom had been attracted to Lancaster by its on-campus accommodation, which has won the ‘Best University Halls’ in the National Student Housing Survey four years running. One student said she was dismayed because she had got AAA at A-Level yet had not obtained a place on campus because she applied through insurance. There are anecdotes of other students who had made Lancaster their insurance choice, received an offer, declined it and then applied successfully through clearing.

The problems facing accommodation come after several months of issues relating to low intake in admissions to Lancaster.
According to a bulletin, circulated in February 2013 by the University and Colleges Union, many academic departments had suffered a drastic reduction in applications, and it was suggested that the reason for this was the high entry tariffs imposed on academic departments.

It was noted, for example, that History had suffered a 49% drop in applications; that Sociology experienced a 33% drop in applications, and that Accounting and Finance suffered a drop of 20%.

Entry grades for academic courses are set by the University’s Target Setting Group, which is made of the Deputy Vice Chancellor and the Directors of Finance, Planning and Marketing.

These decisions are then handed down to academic departments with no input from directors of admissions or heads of department, a procedure that has been described as ‘opaque and inaccessible’ by the UCU.

An emergency meeting of the UCU took place on February 26th and passed a motion calling upon the Vice Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith to review the University’s admissions policy. The University then sent out emails to prospective students who had accepted offers to study at Lancaster informing them of their commitment to accept them onto courses even if they achieve one grade below their offer level.

When the period for clearing arrived, it was apparent that the university had failed to meet its target student numbers by a figure in excess of 400.

In the days preceding clearing, which opened on Thursday 15th of August, Faculty officers met to agree on clearing levels (the A-level grades required from clearing applications).

However, it has become apparent that many of the clearing levels set by faculty officers were, after discussions, overruled by senior management, who called for clearing levels to be set at a majority of BBB.

According to sources, the departments of Maths and Physics both had wanted to set clearing levels at AAB, in order to secure, through clearing, students who had been rejected by top Universities, but eventually compromised at a clearing level of ABC.

While, in some instances, academic departments came somewhat short of reaching their targets, others, including Sociology, Law and Economics (the latter two of which reached their targets, but still were permitted to enter into clearing) overshot and exceeded University projections.

While the University remains positive about the outcome of the process, with Faculty Deans expressing satisfaction with the way in which they were led through clearing and admissions, the Students’ Union has taken a dim view on the outcome.

While Joel Pullan, LUSU President, was pleased to see that the University aims to increase its intake further for the next academic year, he added; “What I think is concerning and disappointing is the way the university went about admissions this year. They showed a disregard for insurance choice students’ expectations of living on campus, and instead chose to guarantee clearing students on campus accommodation.

“They have to take responsibility for that and the Students’ Union will ensure that they do.”

Vice-President (Education) Joe O’Neill was equally critical, particularly of the University’s decision to recruit so many students through clearing.

“The fact that D Floor, in its infinite wisdom, decided to go against its own much trumpeted, vigorously defended escalation of entry grades and implement a slash-and-grab bid for a bit of extra cash shows exactly how right critics of their Oxbridge-on-the-Lune pipe dream were.”

O’Neill went on to assert that LUSU had been told in no uncertain terms by the University that no such issues surrounding oversubscription or accommodation would arise; “However, along rumbled the Uni House machine, running like clockwork on its predictable summer timetable.

“We fought and managed to win a number of concessions for our students, and for the JCRs who will have to go about administering off-campus freshers’ weeks and on-going pastoral care, but even then it was yet another case of picking up the pieces after another mess dumped on us by D-Floor.”

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