Canterbury University a 'ghost-town'

19:49, May 11 2013

It has been six-and-a-half years since I first walked onto Canterbury University's campus as a "fresher" from Blenheim, with books in hand and big ideas in mind.

In those days, I weaved my way through a throng of students who milled idly outside libraries, inside cafes and, frustratingly, half-in and half-out of doorways.

Since then, things have changed dramatically.

The February 2011 earthquake not only rocked the foundations of many of the campus's buildings, it also knocked the confidence of many of the University's students.

A quarter of first-year students in 2011 decided not to continue at the university. Many others who would have come to the region to study, as I did, decided to go elsewhere.

The result is there are now 22 per cent fewer students at the University than in 2010, my last year of study at the institution.


University of Canterbury Students' Association president Erin Jackson who, like me, started at the university in 2007, has noticed the changes.

"The whole city, including the campus, does look a lot different to when I was in first here. In my first years of university we had the Foundry and other nearby bars to go to, which are now gone," she says.

"It's different here but there are a lot of positive changes, too."

Returning to the campus this week, I find one thing that immediately strikes me as unusual: I get a park.

As a student, I was never able to secure myself a space for my Toyota Starlet anywhere near the campus. Now, I slide my car into one of several parks and venture off to my old favourite cafe.

It has moved buildings because of earthquake damage but that's not the only change.

It's lunchtime but there's not the same long queue that I used to stand in, wondering if the scones would sell out before I got to the front. It's virtually empty.

I quickly get my coffee and decide to meander around the campus.

I seem to be the only one doing so.

The pathways and lawns that were once packed with people are now desolate, despite the sunny day.

I discover the area under the main library, once wasted space, has been developed into an area with a huge range of eateries, comfy seating and shops.

It looks fantastic but it feels like such a waste when half the chairs are empty.

In the library itself, an area I probably should have spent more time in, I find the same story. It's been modernised but only small clusters of die-hard students are making use of the facilities.

I run into an old University friend of mine who is still completing her degree.

"It's such a shame," she laments. "They've improved things so much but no-one is here to appreciate it. It's like studying in a ghost-town."

We decide to go for a drink, but unfortunately the university pub was destroyed in the quakes.

The Foundry was one of the hallmarks of student life. At any time of the day you would find the bar's sloping banks full of students marking all of university's milestones - a failed test, a successful love life.

The new Foundry is a charmless pop-up building but, reassuringly, it still serves my standard grub: a jug and some fries.

There's a few guys playing pool and a group lounging on a couch enjoying a beer but it's not the same.

Jackson tells me that wasn't the goal.

The new Foundry was designed to be an "adaptable social space", for quizzes, dances, music recitals and even a bible group on Sundays.

"We were never going to be able to replicate the feel of the old Foundry but we weren't strictly trying to do that. It is different to the old bar but as an events centre it's operating very well."

The campus' facilities have been improved but without the students to fill them, the campus lacks the vibrant atmosphere it once had.

Jackson agrees that some things have been lost, but says others have been gained.

"I think it's very easy and justifiable to miss some of what we had, which was great, but there are still amazing things happening right now," she says. "The student body is smaller but it's more involved in the community and university life than ever before."

Positive notes

Things that are still great about the University of Canterbury: 

* The campus is student-friendly with all buildings close at hand and linked with landscaped green spaces. 

* The newly improved facilities, especially the library's 'Undercroft', provide great modern spaces for studying or socialising. 

* There's a wide range of eateries on site, ranging from a burger bar, to an Asian Hot Wok cafe, to the Shilling Club. 

* The university has its own discounted health centre and has a subsidised dental programme. 

* The UCSA has more clubs and societies affiliated to it than any other students' association. Last year, 160 club events were held. 

The Press