Two weeks ago, Queen’s University students studying at Bader College woke to the news that they would not be completing their year of studies in the UK as expected.
Bader College is operated within the 600-acre Herstmonceux Castle estate, offering students in some programs at Queen’s an opportunity to complete their first year of studies in the historic castle.
180 students were in the UK to do just that for the 2023-24 school year, but on November 13 they were informed the castle was deemed unsafe and that their classes would be pivoting online for the remainder of this semester and the upcoming winter semester.
The issue was first brought to the attention of the university on November 3, with students being notified on November 13 that structural issues, particularly with the roof of the castle, required immediate attention and made it unsafe for classes to be held within.
“Late last week, a structural engineer visited the campus and confirmed that the situation is more serious than previously understood,” a statement from the university read.
“Out of an abundance of caution, Queen’s University made the decision to cease operations in the Castle with immediate effect. All academic programming is moving online until the end of the Fall term.”
Students are still living in the UK -the closure has not impacted their living arrangements- however teaching has shifted to online for the small remainder of instructional time in the semester, and students will be back in Kingston for the winter semester.
Vice-provost Matthew Evans says there’s no prospect of fixing the castle for “quite a while” and so the decision has been made not only to move students back to Kingston for next semester, but put a pause on applications for the upcoming year.
Evans says there was disappointment from students who expected to be in the UK for the year, but at this point it’s inevitable and that issues brought forward by students have been “largely resolved”.
As of last week Evans said little had been learned about what exact repairs would be needed and what the timeline would be, and things are still largely in an exploratory phase alongside English Heritage.
He said from what he’s been told it will likely take at least eight weeks to get preparation work that completed in order to then find out what needs to be done in order to stop the building deteriorating any further, with some delays due to weather expected.
The university isn’t expecting to be able to give a timeline until some time in February and as of right now is estimating 18 months to two years before the completion of all necessary work.
Evans says given that uncertainty, the university can’t prepare for next year as if the castle will be available.
“We can’t guarantee that the spaces will be available in September,” Evans said.
“And then because of that uncertainty, we’ve decided that we won’t be sending students for academic year 24-25.”
He added that while the timeline of making the castle safe for entry again might leave the building with a portion of time with no students, the university hasn’t thought of trying to utilize the castle for any other purposes.
“I think we’ve been focusing on sorting the student issues out and getting to the point where we understand the the impact of the repairs that are needed on the building and until we do do that, I don’t really think it would be responsible to kind of commit to any kind of activity,” Evans said.
“Once we have clarity on what actually needs to be done, when it can be done and when the buildings secure then we can start really kind of planning at that.”
As part of repairs, the building will undergo a complete survey to help ensure there are no other issues waiting to be dealt with.
Evans says students will be have lower tuition in Kingston than they would have paid to be at Bader College, and Queen’s is reimbursing 50% of their accommodation costs and any costs incurred associated with changing travel plans.
Students could also be given a disruption fee for the inconvenience, however it’s not clear how much each student will receive.