Home Comment Things you should probably have an opinion on: University Expansion

Things you should probably have an opinion on: University Expansion

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In her most recent column, Fran Lowe discusses the expansion of the University, and its implications.

We all know that the University of Exeter is getting bigger and bigger. Every year we celebrate the huge increase in the number of undergraduate applications; every year we watch as more offers are made than ever before; every year, come September, we all fight our way through the crowds around campus and wonder how many more we can take.

Image credits: Niklas Rahmel
Image credits: Niklas Rahmel

However, whether all this growth should be seen as a good or a bad thing is open to debate. Having more people around on campus does certainly make day-to-day life more difficult. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how difficult it is to find a computer in the library, or how long you have to queue for a coffee and a sandwich at lunchtime. It also means that the smaller lecture theatres are becoming increasingly over crowded- I maintain that if everyone turned up to my Monday 3pm, someone would have to sit on the floor.

It is fairly obvious that the ‘campus experience’ is not going to be the same in coming years. There is a limit to how much the university can continue to exponentially increase its intake before campus starts to suffer, and we become too big. There will come a year, probably not in the too-distant future, when potential applicants realise this, and choose somewhere smaller, more intimate, and frankly less crowded than Exeter. Even in my two short years here, I can already see the differences: although I do spend significantly more time in the library now than when I was a fresher, it is seriously significantly more difficult to find a seat nowadays. I dread to think what this will be like in five or ten years’ time.

As Exeposé News reported last week, the university continues its relentless defence of the decision to expand, claiming to always see the importance of student experience. Personally, I struggle to see how this is entirely true- while they do ask us how things really are, the truth is that the people making ever more undergraduate offers aren’t the ones that have to wander aimlessly around the forum looking for a plug socket, somewhere, anywhere, to charge a laptop. It’s hard to see that the people making the decisions are really putting the students that are already here at the top of their priorities.

However, surely it can only be a good thing that the University of Exeter is striving to always make room for more? As a welcoming, rather than tiny and overly elite institution, the university is putting itself at the forefront of the drive to get more and more people into higher education. If top universities like ourselves continue to grow, that means there is more room for students who deserve it to come and get a great education.

We’re all familiar with the infamous government target to get 50% of young people into higher education. This was actually done away with in 2011, when the government stated that they have ‘no target for the “right” size of the higher education system’, and argued that it should ‘evolve’, rather than just continue to grow blindly. Essentially, it’s about making sure that clever, hardworking and well-qualified students get into HE, and that there are sufficient graduate level jobs for them once they leave.

It’s probably true that the old target of 50% of people in HE was unrealistic. It’s difficult enough as it is to find grad jobs now, and with more and more people coming through the system and fighting for those jobs, it’s not going to get any easier unless someone creates some more work somewhere along the line. However, what is important is that the opportunities are still there for those who deserve them. Part of me fears that this change in targets, along with the high fees, is another step backwards for equality for all in education.

Personally, I think it’s crucial that as many people who want to and deserve to go to university get the chance. If this means Exeter letting more and more people in, then so be it. What is important, though, is that the university continues its work to make things more comfortable what with there being so many of us. They could be accused of being money-grabbing, and just wanting the fees off the extra students coming in, but as long as that money is used in the right place, things should be alright, surely?

This year, a few more computers have appeared in the library. Plans have also been released about adapting the space on the top floor of Devonshire House into more study space. This is all a step in the right direction, although there is obviously still a long way to go. For one thing it would be great if more of the library computers actually worked. And frankly you only need to set foot in Moberly to see that we could really use some more halls. At least there is evidence, though, that someone is starting to wonder where we are going to put all these freshers when they get them.

For me, the expansion of the university is an issue that affects us on more than one level. Obviously there’s the over-crowding on campus and the fact that not everyone can fit into Timepiece on a Wednesday to deal with. But you could look at Exeter as a microcosm of the system as a whole, and see things on a national scale. It’s really great that more and more people are getting the education they deserve to get, and therefore the opportunities and the future that they are capable of. But do we want to flood the system? What’s important is that no matter how big the university gets, and how big the HE system gets as a whole, our money is used in the right place to make sure that the ‘student experience’, and the overall quality of our degrees, remains as good as they promised us it would be.

Fran Lowe, Features Online Columnist

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