SCAN News’ Review of 2013

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2013 was an exciting year for Lancaster, with a multitude of events ranging from struggles with the counselling services and the closure of the Music degree to the striking of academic staff over fair pay. SCAN has been at the forefront of it all, and this year we’ve decided to wrap things up by highlighting key events that have been most important to students.

 

Grad Ball moves to Blackpool Tower. Photograph: Ingy The Wingy
Grad Ball moves to Blackpool Tower. Photograph: Ingy The Wingy

 

In the first issue of 2013 released in January, SCAN ruffled feathers by reporting on Lancaster University Students’ (LUSU) Union’s plans to move the Graduation Ball to Blackpool Tower, instead of opting for a traditional campus venue such as the Great Hall – which increased prices for the event dramatically according to the original article, printed January 21st. LUSU Vice President (Events & Democracy) Libby Martin – a role which no longer exists due to the restructure of Full Time Officer (FTO) positions at the end of the 2012/2013 academic year – claimed the changes were “largely based on feedback” from students. However, SCAN’s Assistant Editor at the time Jack Smith revealed the move was based on LUSU’s loss of profit and declining ticket sales for the event, as the previous Ball had lost £15,000, “which needed to be financed from other areas of LUSU”. Students reacted differently to the story, with some saying that they preferred the event to be on campus to retain its university feel, whilst others approved of the venue move as it made it “more special”. In the end, the ticket prices were reduced and many celebrated the end of the academic year in style at Blackpool Tower.

 

In contrast to our final 2013 issue of SCAN, which reported that the 1994 Group – of which Lancaster was a part – had officially disbanded, the first 2013 issue of SCAN included an article which claimed Vice Chancellor Mark E. Smith had told members of LUSU that Lancaster would remain “strongly committed to the 1994 Group”. SCAN reported in January that the group had seen eight institutions leave in 2012 and its future was uncertain, and had led to an article being printed in the Times Higher Education entitled “Will the last university to leave the 1994 Group please turn out the lights?” Smith commented “My position and the University’s position on the 1994 Group at the moment is very clear… Of course the 1994 Group is in flux… [it] played, and still plays in my view, an important role in the discussion over research-intensive universities…”. However, it seems the Group failed to recover from their “flux” and the Group decided to close its doors after 19 years; Joel Pullan, current LUSU President, remarked “Lancaster, being part of this mission group, has been party to big decisions affecting not just our own institutions, but across the country”. Whether the closure of the 1994 Group was a result of their losses in 2012 or a natural end to the group remains unanswered, however the author of the SCAN article, published November 25th, poignantly wrote “despite its competition with the Russell Group, the 1994 group remained a respected and successful establishment until its end”.

 

In January, it was reported that the University Counselling Services were to gain additional staff, after ex-Vice President (Equality, Welfare & Diversity) Rosalia O’Reilly successfully campaigned to improve the service. The campaign focused on “the inadequacy of the building facilities as well as the deficient numbers of staff members and appointments available to both students and staff”. Considered a success, this promise of additional staff contented many. However, in February it was reported that the University had decided to remove internal phones from campus accommodation, raising concerns about how students could contact volunteer-dependent service Nightline, which offers support and a friendly ear to anybody at Lancaster who requires it well into the night. Unfortunately, the situation so far appears to have worsened, as in October SCAN again reported that the apparent need for counselling had risen by 127 per cent. The article revealed “Several members of [University] staff have suggested that the rise in the number of students seeking the University’s counselling service is linked to the closure and dismantling of several of the student support networks, which took place during the summer of 2010 and into the 2010/11 academic year”, and has so far yet to be resolved.

 

2013 was also plagued with struggles in terms of campus retailers, and the situation snowballed as larger retailers purchased property in and around Alexandra Square. Branches of banks came and went, and the year began with the closure of Diggles – popular Lancashire sandwich and coffee providers. The announcement of Subway and WHSmith coming to campus raised many eyebrows, as the University appeared to be pandering to wealthy companies and eschewing local businesses by raising rent prices. Second year student Alex Jones told SCAN “It seems that the University are forcing food outlets on campus to leave so that we have to buy food from the outlets and bars that they own”. As the year progressed, the situation only appeared to worsen. Subway, which now resides in Bowland College, has been the subject of much controversy and rumours of its arrival were suggested in SCAN as early as January. From there, it faced opposition from Bowland students, from our resident university bloodhound Ronnie Rowlands in this Comment article and from those who protested its 4am closing hour during the Quiet Period – which is enforced during summer term around exams.

 

Pendle Bar was closed down by Jo Hardman but later reopened. Photograph: Jay Theis
Pendle Bar was closed down by Jo Hardman but later reopened. Photograph: Jay Theis

Furore over the college bars continued in 2013 as it was revealed that Jo Hardman, Head of Commercial Services, had chosen to close Pendle Bar to the college for the majority of the time; with the exception of special events such as Pendle Live, Freshers’ Week and Extravs. The front page of SCAN on April 29th claimed that there were fears of the college bar “shutting in stealth”. The ‘closure’ came as a surprise to many, as SCAN had previously reported on some small renovations to the bar which suggested that all was well. Yet in April, Hardman confirmed to SCAN that “at the end of last term, a meeting was held with all the JCRs and colleges, which discussed the continuing decrease in sales of drinks in the bars and the need to agree action to improve performance of each bar against a plan”. Further to this, there was discontent amongst student bar staff, as it was revealed in May they were opposing the cuts to bar staff hours and the instatement of monthly wages – a Facebook poll showed that 74% of students at Lancaster preferred to be paid weekly as they felt it suited students better, with just 26% approving of the changes. One student staff member Christopher Osborn observed “If the University are capable of missing several deadlines forcing me to wait three or four weeks to be paid, I believe it is unlikely that they will be able to make a single deadline to ensure I am paid within four to six weeks”.

 

It seems overall that the University has not fared well with their staff this year. After committing to the living wage in May due to pressure from LUSU, SCAN announced in November that hundreds of university academic staff are employed on controversial zero hours contracts. The use of zero hours contracts means a lack of steady income for both staff and students employed on them, with postgraduate staff suffering the most. In addition to this, SCAN broke the news of the University and College Union (UCU) strike, and we provided further updates on the progress of the strike, a photo-spread in our Week 6 edition and announced the solidarity of the Students’ Union, who pledged to support academic staff in their battle for fair pay. It seems so far that the University are failing to honour their commitment to the living wage, as two strikes took place during Michaelmas term 2013/2014, with claims of more to follow.

 

In terms of education at the University, one of the biggest stories of the year was the closure of the Music degree. SCAN broke the news of proposed changes to the Applied Social Science (ASS) department in February, initiated by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), claiming that Criminology programmes would be moved from their current position in ASS to the Law School. In the next issue of SCAN, released February 25th, it was revealed that the University had failed to follow procedure by closing the Music degree scheme. Despite the protests of many students and an Emergency General Meeting during which students voted unanimously to save the arts, it was too late to save Music and the degree is currently being phased out. There was further bad news for Music students in October, as two members of staff resigned and it was revealed many were struggling with the course and their dissertations. The loss of Music is one that will resound throughout the University, as the FTO team at the time were accused of acting too slowly in saving the degree, and former LUSU President Ste Smith was mandated to write an open letter to Vice Chancellor Mark Smith on behalf of LUSU to “express ‘grave concerns’ the student body has over the University’s strategy as a whole”.

 

Laurence Pullan won the Sir Chris Bonnington Outstanding Achievement Award. Photograph: Louise Mason
Laurence Pullan won the Sir Chris Bonnington Outstanding Achievement Award. Photograph: Louise Mason

As always, the FTO elections – which take place late in Lent term – dominated the newspaper as we provided you with interviews and full coverage of all the candidates. Former SCAN Sport Editor, Pendle College President, Cross Campus Officer (CCO) Media and later CCO Socials Laurence Pullan was successful at the start of the year, when he won the Sir Chris Bonnington Outstanding Achievement Award at the LUSU Awards in January. Laurence and his brother Joel went on to be extremely successful during the FTO elections, with Laurence being elected Vice President (Union Development) and Joel elected as President. Rachel Harvey, Emily Pollitt, Joe O’Neill and Tom Fox were also all duly elected into FTO positions and since their elections have been successful in implementing changes to LUSU and the University. Joe O’Neill – also known during his campaign as #FTjOe – managed to persuade the library to open for a 24 hour trial period in April, and was successful again at the end of the 2013/2014 Michaelmas term in lobbying for a 24 hour library so that students could access its resources whenever they needed as course deadlines approached. Tom Fox featured frequently in SCAN during October and November, firstly for his successful banning of so-called ‘LAD’ mags in LUSU stores, and again for successfully passing an Everyday Sexism motion. Rachel Harvey experienced success as she was re-elected into the newly named Vice President (Campaigns & Communications) role, after managing to separate the position of SCAN Editor from her previous role. SCAN was pleased to report in May – after an election on April 30th – that the first student editor of SCAN in over thirty years, myself, had been elected.

 

As the new academic year got underway, the university were at fault as many Freshers coming to Lancaster found themselves in a sticky situation, due to oversubscription of college accommodation. Many new arrivals at Lancaster were unable to secure campus accommodation and were forced to live off-campus for those tentative first weeks, if not for the entire year. SCAN was sad to report in Week 2 (Michaelmas term) of an incident in the Students’ Union nightclub, The Sugarhouse, in which a young woman was sexually assaulted in a toilet cubicle. The culprit is yet to be identified, and SCAN has written several articles appealing for information. SCAN News Editor Jack Perry was first on the scene in November to report on a fire started in Cartmel college accommodation. The blaze destroyed one student’s room, after a firework was carelessly thrown through the window whilst she was asleep – pictures showed the blackened window frame in Block 55 of Cartmel residences. The victim spoke to SCAN shortly after the incident occurred late on Monday, Week 5 (Michaelmas term), saying “My passport, my bank card, my library card… everything that confirms my identity is in my room. It happened so suddenly”. SCAN followed up the story in the next issue, reporting that no students were harmed in the incident and many had been safely returned to their accommodation.

 

The constant construction on campus over the past few years; an annoyance or a benefit? Photograph: Mae Reddaway
The constant construction on campus over the past few years; an annoyance or a benefit? Photograph: Mae Reddaway

The campus has undergone some changes during 2013, with SCAN reporting on the construction of the new Engineering building in April and providing updates since then. Other construction on campus includes the Science Park, which was announced in April and the renovation of Bowland Tower, which the University claims will be completed in early 2014. Whilst construction can occasionally be an annoyance on campus – for example, the Underpass which remained closed for renovations for around two years – Annie Underwood wrote positively for our Comment section in November about the improvements around campus. The University also received positive attention nationally, after reaching the top ten for ‘student experience’ in May and receiving television fame after working on a programme with the BBC to improve the environment. 2013 also saw the retirement of LUSU CEO Pete Elliot, who spent 34 years working in the organisation and in his youth held the position of Bowland College President.

 

 

Stagecoach received a lot of critisism as their services failed students. Photography: Mae Reddaway.
Stagecoach received a lot of critisism as their services failed students. Photography: Mae Reddaway.

Stagecoach’s poor service was also questioned and criticised in November, as their services failed students. SCAN first heard of the unrest in October, after one disgruntled student wrote in to our Letters to the Editor section saying: “Stagecoach need to get a grip and realise that the people using their services are not just neglected, ignored students; surely the locals are sick [of Stagecoach] as well?” The article printed in Week 6 (Michaelmas term) reported that some students had complained of up to thirty minute waits, with the service “rapidly becoming insufficient for the town’s booming student population”. With Stagecoach being the only form of transport for off-campus students, which has increased due to more first year undergraduates living in the city and surrounding areas, students and staff were quick to criticise the bus service and are currently seeking changes in their services. Ironically, earlier in the year Stagecoach was praised as a key component in Lancaster’s Travel Plan, the targets of which were met way before anticipated.

 

Towards the end of the year, Vice President (Union Development) Laurence Pullan spoke exclusively to SCAN of the Union’s plans to increase representation of disabled students. Pullan was keen to stress that support is available to disabled students, stating: “At the moment our Aid and Support Team are great and work on very specific disability issues. But we do also work with the university’s Student Based Services and the Disabled Services in particular, because they do have dedicated staff that work with disabled students.” Further to this, Melissa Parker wrote a touching piece in the final issue of SCAN about how her disability has not affected her experience as a student.

In SCAN’s final issue of the year, released November 25th, we revealed the controversy at Lancaster’s international campuses. International campuses are an issue that have recurred in SCAN throughout the year: in May, ethical concerns about a China campus were discussed after it was revealed plans were moving forward, a source within the University told SCAN that things would move “very quickly”. In October, we wrote of the announcement of the new branch in Ghana, followed by our final front page of the year which spoke of Academic Standards and Quality Committee reports and revealed “the poor quality of the programmes delivered at the University’s international teaching partners”. In reaction to this, Comment Editor Sam Smallridge and author of SCAN’s regular feature Postscript Ronnie Rowlands have both written articles for and against whether international campuses can still be a success for the University. At this moment in time, it seems difficult to tell.

 

Overall, it has been a successful year for SCAN as we make the transition from an FTO-led media to an entirely student produced publication. We’ve broken big news, responded to the Daily Mail’s accusations of vanity, been retweeted by Stephen Fry and the Everyday Sexism twitter accounts and even tricked at least half the student population into thinking that Lancaster and York universities were planning to merge. Happy New Year to you all, I look forward to seeing what 2014 will bring to SCAN, the University and the Students’ Union.

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