The University of York has ‘paused’ its £35 million Student Centre for at least three years as it grapples with a loss-making financial situation - and its student numbers drop for the first time in years.

The move comes as the highly-respected Russell Group institution reports a deficit of £24 million in 2022/23, compared to a surplus of £14 million last year, according to recently released financial statements.

Work on the iconic five-storey building was due to start this Spring. It would have been the most significant development at the university since Campus West was erected in the 1960s.

Plans for it were submitted to City of York Council last March, but they were withdrawn in November.


The scheme, due for completion in academic year 2025/25, promised events and flat floor spaces, collaborative study areas, studios for student radio and TV, as well as a new home for both the university’s student unions and frontline student support services. It also promised places to eat and drink and a rooftop garden.

The University of York has blamed the ‘pause’ on increasing costs facing the university sector, forcing it to “revaluate its immediate investment priorities".

It has posted on its website: “Despite this delay, we want to assure you that the Student Centre remains a 2030 transformational initiative of utmost importance to us and continues to be a pivotal initiative for our university.”

York Press: Inside the planned £35M Student Centre

The university confirmed: “It is important to emphasise that we are committed to resuming the Student Centre project in the future as part of our 2030 strategy.”

In the meantime, the university plans to develop the site area as “a usable space for everyone by Spring 2024".

It continued: “This will include wheelchair accessibility, some planting and seating. The currently hoarded off area will remain as it is for several months whilst this work is undertaken. On completion, we will re-open Central Car Park with remarked bays.”

The recently released annual report for 2023 says the operating deficit, which deals with operating costs such as wages and running the estate, was £14 million, compared to a £15 million surplus the previous year.

Around a quarter of British universities in 2021-22 reported an operating deficit.

Overall income at York increased by 9.9 per cent or £17 million from £472 million to £519 million, fuelled by higher research revenues, up £17 million to £97 million.

York Press: An outside view

However, after at least five years of growth, total student numbers fell from 22,235 to 21,140. Full-time domestic student numbers dropped from 16,090 to 15,955 and international student numbers dropped nearly 1,000 from 6,145 to 5,185.

It meant income from overseas students fell £5 million from £102 million to £97 million, while income from domestic students increased from £128 million to £129 million.

Total costs at the university increased by £79 million to £537 million, with operating costs up £35 million. Staffing costs rose £39 million from £254 million to £293 million, fuelled by pay-rises and one-off staff payments and a nine per cent increase in total staff numbers. Academic staff numbers increased by seven per cent (139 FTE) from 2,031 to 2,170 and support staff numbers increased 10 per cent (262 FTE) from 2,672 to 2,934.

The report notes a growth in international student numbers after the pandemic but “changed geopolitical circumstances” creating headwinds in attracting such students, who remain “a key strategic priority to ensure the financial stability of the university".

Recently, the university said it would take a more ‘flexible’ approach to overseas students who missed their grades, though it rejected reports it was lowering entry standards for them.

The current funding model, with domestic tuition fees remaining flat since 2017 at £9,250 a year, was “unsustainable” it said.  

York Press: A view from outside

But the report also noted: “Despite the external environment, we remain a strong institution.”

A University of York spokesperson told the Press: “Like many others in our sector, we continue to face increasing costs and universities now lose £1 billion each year on teaching domestic students and £5 billion on undertaking research, as well as having to absorb wider cost of living inflationary pressures.

“As a result, many universities are carefully managing their finances and York has moved quickly to put in place a series of measures to address deficits, including reducing the cost of our estate and pausing infrastructure projects such as the Student Centre, so that we are in a good position to remain resilient and deliver our strategy.”