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In what is being hailed as a resounding victory for students, two motions put forward by student representatives have been passed by the 2015 annual meeting of University Court.
The first of the two motions – proposed by VP(Education) Joe O’Neill – sought to urge the University to reconsider the recent decision to increase tuition fees for international and postgraduate students, as well as the increase in on-campus rent. The second motion, which was proposed by VP(Campaigns and Communications) Ronnie Rowlands, urged the University to consider the abolition of search committees for the college principal appointments, placing more responsibility with the college syndicates. Both motions were passed by an overwhelming majority of those in attendance.
The 2015 session of University Court took place on Saturday Week 3 in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1, and was the first to be presided over by Lancaster’s new Chancellor, Rt Hon Alan Milburn. University Court is the body which aims to reflect the wider interests served by Lancaster University, and includes many members from outside of the University, including alumni, those representing the local community, and other interested bodies, in addition to members of University management, members of staff and over 50 student representatives.
O’Neill and Rowlands both spoke in favour of the motion on Rent and Fee Increases, with O’Neill observing that only one type of on-campus accommodation was priced at less than £100 in order to indicate the damaging effect a further rise will have. O’Neill also accused the University of “holding the LUSU President hostage” on the issue of rent and fee increases by using confidentiality clauses. Rowlands, meanwhile, argued that on rent increases the University could not provide the rental agreement with accommodation provider UPP as a valid justification for the increase, as students themselves had not agreed to the signing of the agreement. On the international and postgraduate fee increases, Rowlands argued that the sole reason the University had proposed the increase was because competitor universities were doing the same. “Let us not bring ourselves ‘in line’ with your competitors – let us stand tall above them’” Rowlands told the Court.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Atherton spoke against the motion. Atherton said that the University were very aware of the problems facing students, but said that the two per cent deficit between the University’s costs and its income necessitated a rise in postgraduate and international tuition fees. Atherton also argued that the rise in on-campus rent was due to students wanting more en suite accommodation.
Rowlands also spoke in favour of the motion on College Principalships, recounting the failed process of appointing a principal to either Bowland or Lonsdale College in Lent Term 2013-14. Rowlands argued that the undermining of the will of college syndicates in their choice of principal is in stark contrast to the rhetoric of the University’s recent College Review, which was published on Friday Week 3. Bowland President Julia Sammons also spoke in favour of the motion, detailing the way her JCR has struggled as a result of having neither a College Principal nor a College Administrator. “We feel ignored by the University,” Sammons told the Court.
Provost for Student Experience, Colleges and the Library Professor Amanda Chetwynd spoke against the motion, reassuring members of the Court that the colleges remain an active part of the University by pointing to college SCR and student involvement in the College Review. Chetwynd also argued that college syndicates needed to undergo change in order to remove non-active members and members who were neither staff nor students at the University.
After short debates about both the fee increases and the colleges, the Court (chaired by Deputy Pro-Chancellor John Hadfield) voted overwhelmingly in favour of both motions. The passing of the motions is considered a victory for students, and for LUSU’s campaigning in these areas. LUSU held a protest before the Court, handing out leaflets to members urging them to support the two motions.
In addition to the two motions, University Court included speeches and reports by Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith, Pro-Chancellor Lord Roger Liddle and President Laura Clayson, as well as the University’s annual financial report which was delivered by Sarah Randall-Paley. The session of Court was opened and closed by Milburn, who in closing the meeting reiterated President Clayson’s earlier remarks that “we all love Lancaster, and we all want it to thrive.”
A full report of the 2015 annual meeting of University Court, including a complete account of the debates for each motion, will be available shortly.
Update 15.42: this article originally misquoted VP (Campaigns and Communications) Ronnie Rowlands, initially reading: ““Please let us not bring us in line with our competitors, let us stand tall above them.” It has now been amended to the correct “Let us not bring ourselves ‘in line’ with your competitors – let us stand tall above them.”
Update 16.14: the two motions can now be found here. The link has also been added into the article.