Plans announced by Swansea University officials to give the Faraday building on Singleton Park campus a makeover worth 2.75m are causing controversy as students question whether the university has made the right choice over what to invest in.
The 11-month renovation project was scheduled to begin at the beginning of January, after which the majority of construction has been organised to take place during Easter and summer while students are away for the holidays.
Improvements to the Faraday building will include a new entrance hall, multi-coloured glass cladding, an extended second floor, and improved access. A university spokesperson claimed the new look will add ‘vibrancy’ and ‘reflect the standards that Swansea holds and [create] a professional atmosphere that fits in with the degrees that are taught in that building.’
Laurence Atkinson, a first year student of English and Politics, was unsure about the design for the new building.
“I’m not keen on blue and orange for the outside,” he said. “And I don’t really understand how cladding is going to create a professional atmosphere. It seems a waste to spend all that money just to make the building look a bit nicer.”
According to the press release, the new design will improve Faraday’s environmental performance, ‘potentially reducing carbon emissions by up to 22% whilst improving visual, thermal and acoustic properties’.
Students of Swansea University have expressed their doubts over whether the university could be investing in something more worthwhile, such as one of the many on-going campaigns that could use funding to help their cause.
Societies and Services Officer Tom Upton has criticised the university’s plans and its prioritising of the build over his current campaign to hire more careers advisors for students.
‘I can understand that at the top, the University Senior Management team see us as consumers. And, unwillingly I will agree that, we are. But I feel students have been pushed, scared almost, into accepting they will have to pay outrageous amounts of money to extend their education.
‘I feel that the education system has shot itself in the foot. By raising its fees and introducing courses that will improve your employability, and offering internships and years in industry; they are now in a situation where they should be providing sound supportive careers advice.’
Swansea University currently has two careers advisors for over 14,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Mr Upton explained why the university should be providing more.
‘The University has a responsibility to support and enhance students in all areas of their lives, and to do this fully they must take careers advice and guidance seriously. It is not for all, many won’t use it, but those who do want it and ask for it should be given it readily and without complication.
‘I am incredibly proud to have studied at our university and to have had the opportunity to speak out and change things for students. I would like the university to seriously consider the message it sends to the current student population, who have but two careers advisors, when it prioritises attracting the next generation [of students] with redecorating of buildings, over supplying careers advice.’
[The opinions given by Mr Tom Upton do not represent the Students’ Union as a whole, nor do they necessarily represent the beliefs of the other Full Time Officers.]
Tom Hoyles, a member of the Living Wage Campaign, also expressed his disappointment at the university’s choice to prioritise the Faraday renovation over student-led campaigns. The Living Wage Campaign aims to ensure all members of staff who work on campus are paid a wage they can live on without struggling to provide basic necessities for their families. The current minimum wage for an individual over the age of 21 is £6.08, while the Living Wage calls for the university to sets its own new minimum at £7.20, which is accepted as the amount required to meet the most basic of living expenses.
The campaign applies to grade one staff members (cleaning staff, catering staff, porters, etc.) who are paid the minimum age or slightly higher. A freedom of information request was sent by members of the campaign, to find that around 200 employees are paid less than the living wage.
‘I question the priority of renovating the front of Faraday when they have staff members on the breadline,’ said Mr Hoyles.
‘It’s a sad fact that there are members of staff working a 50 hour week just to put food on the table while the university is willing to spend a great deal of money on what is essentially a vanity project.
‘I could understand if there were more lecture halls or offices being built, but it’s just a new façade. In the current economic climate it’s a real kick in the teeth to members of staff working here, many of whom cannot afford to make ends meet.’
Other campaigns include the call for more lighting in Singleton Park; the subject of which has been an issue for several years with no solid result due to a debate between the university and Swansea Council over who should provide the funding. This is despite reports of students being robbed of their possessions or attacked during the night when parts of the pathways are in complete darkness.
One second year student said: ‘We [students] should have been approached for our opinions about what to invest the money in. It’s vital that the student voice is heard- with increasing fees we expect the quality of the university experience to improve, rather than to see such a staggering amount of money being spent on mere aesthetics.’
Scaffolding has already been erected outside Faraday, and students have voiced their concerns over whether their work on campus will be disrupted after the noise levels caused by work taking place outside the Keir Hardie and Callaghan buildings last year. Another second year student gave her thoughts.
‘When work goes on during the semester it’s disruptive. I want to be able to hear my lecturers and tutors and be able to concentrate on what I’m doing without the risk of a pneumatic drill sounding every few minutes.’
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