It's a new world for students

Leader: Kohan McNab has had an eventufl year as president of the University of Canterbury's student association.
Leader: Kohan McNab has had an eventufl year as president of the University of Canterbury's student association.

When Kohan McNab was elected to lead the University of Canterbury's 2011 student body, he had plans to boost communication to students and use assets more effectively.

"That all went out the window in 30 seconds," McNab said when talking of the impact of the February 22 earthquake.

Quakes did not get a mention when the newly elected University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA) executive committee met for the first time on September 3, the day before last year's magnitude-7.1 quake.

Like everyone else, McNab was unaware of the upheaval students and the university were about to face this year.

The university was relatively unaffected by the September 2010 quake but it was not so lucky on February 22, when the campus was forced to close and several buildings, including the association's base, were off-limits.

The February 22 quake set the tone for the rest of the year, which was dominated by the quake aftermath.

Priorities changed instantly and the association went about making the university work for students in a new environment.

"It's not what I expected but I have really enjoyed it. It's been one massive learning experience," McNab said about his year as UCSA president.

The association's building was a hub for students with its shops and food hall, and had up to 3000 people in it at any one time.

But with the building closed, along with the association's many cafes, the Foundry bar and social spaces, alternatives had to be found.

Marquees were erected, but McNab also had to think about the long term.

A new social space called the Undercroft, below the central library in the James Hight building, has opened as a cafe and a study space, and stage two, which would include a food hall, will be open by the end of February.

A controversial $2.5 million bar is being built in the association's car park next to Ilam School.

McNab said providing students with good facilities next year was one of the association's priorities, especially since many central-city bars were closed.

Stage three of the Undercroft would include commercial services, including a travel agent, hairdressers and a pharmacy.

McNab said the university was facing a battle to attract students. "Numbers are going to drop and you can't blame anyone for that. It's totally understandable," he said.

The university predicts it could lose almost 20,000 students and $346m in revenue in the next eight years.

McNab said there were doubts over whether students would want to come to Canterbury. "That's a fair enough question to ask, but it's more the mums asking it than the students," he said.

After graduating with law and commerce degrees and with his year as president almost up, McNab is now job-hunting.

The association's new president is Erin Jackson.

The Press