In amongst all the memes and (arguably) romantic comments on Snowfess (John Snow College’s personal confessions page on Facebook), a running complaint seems to have emerged over the past few months, namely that the JCR levy is a complete waste of money. Although this view is clearly not shared by everyone at the college, the calls of disgruntled first year students have picked up some substantial momentum into the new year, to the point that the JCR issued a report on 27th January 2021 to try to quell demands for a partial refund of the JCR levy due to a lack of college events over the last 12 months.
JCR funds have long been a controversial topic on campus – take, for example, the articles written in this newspaper about the discrepancies in Hatfield JCR’s accounts, or the recent news that almost every college JCR levy has remained unchanged this year – but is it time for an overhaul of the JCR finance system, or should we cut them some slack during the pandemic? I am not saying that I have all the answers to this conundrum, but I do think it is worth injecting a bit of perspective into this debate and open the floor to wider discussion about the JCR finance system in general.
Many of the Snowfess comments complaining about the JCR levy make reasonable claims regarding the lack of events this year which are normally subsidised, the most prominent of which being fresher’s week, the highlight of the JCR calendar. Of course, fresher’s week was not able to go ahead in its usual raucous fashion at the start of this academic year, and with the further cancellation of the annual Winter Ball and other such fancy events due to the pandemic, it feels quite fair for first years (and indeed anyone) to wonder what the JCR levy money is actually being spent on. This quote from Snowfess sums up the grievances against the JCR pretty well: “I’ve not even been to Mt. Oswald yet and there’s been no sports, no balls, no formals, no snow day etc. More transparency from snow please because it’s coming up to 3 terms with zero college events, therefore we should get 1/3 of our payment back!”
I can really empathise with these opinions as I have been unable to visit college so far this year too, and although the JCR has been trying to host some virtual events during the various lockdowns, it is fair to say that these simply do not fill the gaping hole that pre-coronavirus college life has left in our university experiences. But equally, is it fair to want a third of our JCR payments back because of a situation out of the whole world’s control?
As intended, the JCR levy report has shone a light onto the financial situation of John Snow College’s JCR, and it makes for rather interesting reading. The key points were that although the payment for the levy was raised from £100 to £135 for incoming freshers in 2020, the money left over will be used to fund even greater college events when the coronavirus restrictions allow. Although that lump sum of the JCR levy seems like a lot to be paying alongside everything else when arriving at university, it is important to put this payment into perspective. If someone paying the John Snow JCR levy is taking a three year degree course, then the money paid for JCR membership only costs £15 a term – you would easily pay a similar amount of money for a few drinks at Players on a night out, so in the grand scheme of things that seems a whole less extortionate, especially when you are making the most of the JCR subsidies for sports teams and society memberships.
The John Snow JCR president Jack Judge gave the following comment about the JCR levy: “JCRs offer some of the central parts of the wider student experience throughout your time at University. As they are student-led, it means student life is shaped by the students themselves. Joining your JCR means you have the opportunity to make the most of all the activities and events that make the life of the colleges so exciting. Students are encouraged to get involved in as many of the events, sports, societies and initiatives as they can (whether that be welfare, volunteering, leadership-related or one of many other things), not only to contribute to the development of your personal skills and social confidence, but to enhance the enjoyment of your University experience.”
The purpose of this article is not to dismiss the claims of those who are unhappy with the JCR service; in some ways it is quite natural to be annoyed that the university experience hoped for has not come to fruition. You can all make your minds up on the relative value of the JCR levy, as in many ways it comes down to individual financial situations anyway, but perhaps it would be fair to avoid passing judgement until after the pandemic, so the JCR can really showcase the aspects of the JCR integral to making college life pretty excellent. That, or maybe the JCR will be boycotted altogether – stranger things have happened.
Photograph: Josh Alderton