Pro Vice-Chancellor: “It’s been an exceptional year”

Pro Vice Chancellor Rebecca Davies has opened up on the accommodation situation in an exclusive interview with the Courier.

Davies admitted that the University was caught out this year – and that they only realised that they didn’t have enough space as the A-level results were coming in. A reduction in the number of those deferring and in the amount going to adjustment meant they suddenly had far more students than they expected. This huge increase has left the University converting 400 rooms to twin rooms with bunk beds – a move that has not gone down well with this year’s Freshers.

But Aber is still ahead of the game, and they know of four other universities who want to get their hands on bunks, but can’t – because they’re all in Aberystwyth. She promises a bed for everyone. Davies is proud of the efforts of the University – she says they’ve got staff in from other administrative offices to work in Accommodation, and the Vice-Chancellor has even loaned her PA – and they’ve all been working late into the evening for days.

Davies said the Accommodation Office have been contacted by far more parents than students – “once you speak to the son or daughter, they have a different perspective.” The University have gone to efforts to point out they they’re going to release people from their license agreements – not normally allowed – if they are given a bunk room but then find private sector accommodation. She thinks that private landlords will make houses available for rent this year, but admits they need to improve their relationship with landlords and to engage with them earlier in future.

The new computer room in PJM

It’s only the University’s biggest rooms that will have bunks – not Cwrt Mawr or Rosser – and the PJM lounge has been expanded and more PCs and work areas installed, as in Rosser lounge, where they’ve increased the WiFi capacity and added more computers. Student Support have moved around the Residential Support Tutors and Residential Support Co-ordinators, to make sure there are enough of them in the right places. They’re even going to ask them to work extra hours, to make sure they’re available to deal with problems as they arise in the halls. They’re even preparing to bring in staff from other departments, such as mentors from Signpost, if needed.

We put it to her that the University’s eyes might be bigger than their stomach – but she doesn’t accept this. “Our appetite is big – we do want to be the best university in the UK, we do want to be a fantastic international university, but this was a year that threw all sorts of things out of the loop.” She says their biggest loss leader is catered accommodation, where the students had accepted their offer from Aberystwyth before 30 June – with the bursary from the University, the cost to them for the room will be just £13.50 per week, and then £35 for the hospitality card. “If we were trying to make money out of this we would do it in a very different way.”

The University have bought extra white goods for kitchens “more cookers, more fridges, more spaces – none of that is cheap. I know people are looking at this and saying we’re going to be making lots of cash – we’re really not going to be.”

She says there’s a huge amount of work gone into the new student village, which will be built behind PJM and will provide 1000 bed spaces – but admits it’s only taking into account the loss of various other halls that have closed in the last few years, and that the net gain will be around 500 rooms. “Maybe we could have got the student village built already, but no-one would have predicted all this this time last year, nobody was sat here going, this is where we’re going to be with student fees, this is the type of impact it’s going to have, particularly on the English market.

She brushes off the fine that will be levied by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which is expect to be in the region of £1 million – “It’ll be something around that. It is something we have got to just take and work with. In terms of charging for accommodation, the fine doesn’t factor into that, but it is something that we have to take seriously, as it is quite a decent-sized penalty.”

She says the University has “complete commitment to making this the best experience we can,” and that the senior management team will be out and about meeting new students and getting formal feedback from them.