Colleges must be willing to be more transparent

Jack May 22 October 2015

Much of what makes investigating the land holdings of the colleges of the University of Cambridge so enjoyable, and so fascinating, is the old quirks and foibles it throws up.

Discovering the annual charges of £7 and £13 still payable by Gonville and Caius and Sidney Sussex Colleges, respectively, to Trinity College, is as tittilating as the revelation that St. John’s College owns over 14,000 acres of land is extraordinary.

This newspaper takes no issue with the colleges’ ownership of this land. We have no intention of advocating radical seizing of land. Much of that land has been in college hands for centuries – and that is not a fact to dismiss. Often, alumni with great attachment to colleges would leave land to their college in their final will, in an attempt to secure for the students of the college a future much like the one they enjoyed there.

This is a recognition of the college’s success, and should not be penalised. Instead, what is key is that thecolleges are transparent. Students should know, and should easily be able to find out the state of their college’s assets, finances, and spending plans.

Students should be able to argue with the college on what the proceeds of those assets should be spent on, and should be able to have a direct voice in those colleges.

This newspaper is grateful to Rory Landman, Trinity College’s senior bursar, for his transparent and forthcoming engagement with our enquiries to his college. However, Trinity is a college with no direct representation for students on key college boards. This needs to change.

Vastly wealthy colleges cannot be begrudged for their extensive assets, but must be challenged whenever they fail on transparency, and whenever they fail to give students an adequate voice in the running of the college.