York faces backlash over move out of historic building

Departments to move out of Grade I-listed King’s Manor by September 2025

July 5, 2024
King's Manor at the University of York
Source: Source: iStock/Jack Cousin
King’s Manor at the University of York

The University of York has faced a backlash over its decision to move out of a historic building on its campus over cost and accessibility concerns.

King’s Manor – a Grade I-listed medieval building – is home to the university’s Centre for Medieval Studies, Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies and the department of archaeology, as well as other facilities including a newly refurbished library. The site’s planned closure has sparked concern and prompted a student-led petition.

Defending the decision, a university spokesperson said the building was no longer fit for purpose, and that students and staff would be relocated to a different building from September 2025.

“We fully understand the deep attachment many have to this beautiful and historic space, and we are aware of the petition. But sadly it is not possible to reconfigure this much-loved Grade I-listed building so that it is fit for modern academic use,” they said.

“There are substantial running and conservation costs, and accessibility is a major concern, meaning King’s Manor is a space that does not meet the needs of our entire community.”

According to emails sent to PhD students from the university, seen by Times Higher Education, annual running costs of the building in July 2023 – excluding provision of its library services – amounted to about £500,000. Meanwhile, estimated “urgent” maintenance costs come to over £1 million, the university said, and long-term upgrades to the building extend to £15 million.

The university writes in the email: “In the current financial climate, the very high costs of maintaining and repairing a historic city-centre site are not sustainable”.

In its 2022-23 accounts, York reported a £24 million deficit, excluding pension adjustments, following a 16 per cent drop in international student recruitment. It has already lowered entry requirements for some overseas learners in light of “financial challenges”.

Nicky Milner, head of York’s department of archaeology, said that while the department was “sad” to be leaving the historic building, “we are thinking through the benefits of moving”.

“Whilst this will undoubtedly be the end of an era, there is an opportunity to create a cluster for the many different elements of our research and teaching on campus, which includes fieldwork, artefact studies, digital archaeology, heritage and science,” Professor Milner said.

However, the move has sparked a backlash among students who have concerns about the university’s cost-cutting exercise, and it has set off a wider debate about how the institution handles financial challenges.

One PhD student said: “We’d be sad but on board with the move if we thought that it would actually save money and thus jobs.”

But they cautioned that the move would “damage the reputation of the university” as a leader in medieval studies and expressed concern that the university had already made warnings about “compulsory redundancies”. Another stressed that the rationale of the relocation and any cost savings had not been communicated, “making it difficult to see the underlying logic of the decision”.

Yet another PhD student said “there is a massive concern among us that the university executive board is making incredibly poor and short-sighted financial decisions”, pointing to plans by the university – which have since been scrapped because of cost pressures – to build a £35 million student centre.

Constance Halstead, a PhD student at York who set up the petition against the move, noted that many students were attracted by the opportunity to pursue medieval studies in a historic building, and that any move could result in “dwindling” student appeal and recruitment.

York said it was “currently” retaining the lease to King’s Manor and that it was talking to its landlord, City of York Council, about the building’s future, “including how we best facilitate ongoing research and academic engagement with King’s Manor”.


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