I love being a UEA student.
I love walking round our beautiful lake at the bottom of campus. I love using our incredibly well-stocked library. I love my supportive lecturers, and yes, I love crawling out of our club (the LCR) at three in the morning after a Jaegerbomb too many.
Do I sound like an over-eager first year being featured in a glossy prospectus? I'm sure that's how most UEA students felt last week after it was announced that we had come in first position in The Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey. The Marketing department heralded our victory by placing a huge advert in The Guardian, promoting our 'three Booker Prize winners and one Time Lord' (Current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, is a Drama graduate).
There is a huge banner announcing our victory on display at the entrance to campus, and the cynic in me would suggest that it's incredibly convenient timing, now that Open Days are in full swing. What these adverts and banners are failing to mention, however, is that if the university does not help to improve the finances of the crisis-hit Union of UEA Students, we won't be remaining number one for very long.
The Union of UEA Students, led by four full-time officers elected from the student body, provide many of the services that make the UEA student experience so great- club nights, sports teams and societies, cafes, and student media including a newspaper, radio station and television studio to name just a few. Unsurprisingly, these services cost an awful lot of money to run- and the pot is running out. The Union is now running at a £34,000 deficit. Most of the Union's income comes from the sale of alcohol in its outlets, and sadly students just aren't drinking enough in bars anymore, preferring to stick to their £5 a bottle Echo Falls they can find in Tesco.
The biggest hope was that the university big-wigs (led by Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton, infamous on campus for closing the School of Music last year) would increase the block grant given to the Union each year. At the moment, the Union are given £460,000 by the university- a poxy amount when compared to the £2.5 million UCL are given for example.
The Union have concentrated their efforts for the past few weeks on lobbying the university for an extra £320,000 a year (just 0.15% of the university's annual revenue). The university have responded by upping their grant by a measly £12,500- a pittance that means in effect the university is donating less than £30 per student to ensure their experience remains tip-top.
So what does this mean for any prospective student coming to UEA next year? What our glossy prospectus won't tell you? Well, cuts are going to have to be made, unless things improve. Big ones.
Ever fancied trying your hand at a more obscure sport- say, polo or ballet? It'll cost you £100 just to give it a shot, thanks to an increase in the price of Sports Association Membership. Fancy your career as a journalist and seeing your name in print? Good luck with that, Concrete, UEA's official newspaper, may have its printing budget cut. Desperate to down as many cheap pints as possible in the bar? They won't be staying cheap for long- and you may well find that after a while, you're the only person who bothers going. Strapped for cash? Don't expect to earn a Living Wage working in the club or café. Political activist? If being told your trips to conventions and protests can no longer be funded doesn't turn you to apathy, I don't know what will.
Every single one of these cuts will have a negative impact on the student experience at UEA. Student life isn't just about academia and textbooks, it's about being able to try new activities, being able to get involved in issues that you are passionate about, and being able to lay the foundations of a future career.
No one wants these cuts to be made, and the Union has taken great pains to explain that it's not something they're happy about being forced to do. However, I strongly suspect that nobody will be more displeased than the head honchos at the university themselves. Seeing their hard-fought number one place on the Student Experience survey slip out of sight as more and more student services disappear will certainly come as a blow, particularly after spending what I imagine is an ordinate amount of money on publicising its success.
Students at UEA know our university experience is fantastic, for now. But, to those who have the power, I implore you to decide what is more important- putting funds into well-produced Youtube videos promoting the university, or ensuring that every student here has the potential to have the time of their lives. That's what will really keep UEA at number one.