As a second year student in St Andrews, the most common question to be asked in the first few weeks of the semester is “Where are you living this year?” For many, this leads into a long conversation about the price of milk, levels of rent, and how great it is not to be living in halls. Not for everyone though.
There is no secret made of the fact that more students are accepted to St Andrews each year than there are places for, on the expectation that not everyone will achieve the required grades, or wish to carry through with their application; that is why those on waiting lists for halls often succeed in getting rooms. However, it would appear that this year the academic prowess of the incoming undergraduates has surprised the administration, and we are now in the midst of a severe housing crisis in St Andrews.
Countless people spent Freshers’ Week on a friend’s sofa or floor, in a B&B or hotel. Libby Green, a 2nd year Sustainable Development and International Relations student, applied for accommodation in St Regulus Hall, having enjoyed her first year there, in early March, well before the deadline.
She was accepted, and placed on a corridor with some of her friends. “It was great news! I am registered with the disabilities office because of a continuing hip injury, and thus had been given preference for in-town accommodation,” said Libby.
Over the summer, Libby underwent an operation, which was successful, on one of her hips, and considered taking a year off during which she would have the same operation on the other one.
Having advised the University of her situation, they explained the procedure for taking a year of medical absence but Libby took the decision to return on the advice of her surgeon and informed the relevant authorities.
She arrived at St Regulus on the September 17, only to be told that there was no room for her and she had no place at halls. Later in the week, the University offered her a flat on South Street, at a basic rent of over £550 per month.
For lack of options Libby was forced to accept but feels she has been mistreated by the organisation. “I feel the University has seriously slipped upon their responsibilities to the students this year,” she said.
Is this a new problem? It would appear not. Tom Burns, a fourth year studying Spanish, remembers his first year:
“The University sent representatives to Edinburgh airport, turning away students with the promise of a place next year and they put bunk-beds in the University Hall library, turning it into a dormitory to accommodate others.”
The recent cap on new HMO licenses imposed by Fife Council, which Student Association President Patrick O’Hare claimed he would “fight through any means possible”, as well as the sale of Hepburn Hall to a local property baron (which the University was forced to lease back in 2008), has made finding housing in St Andrews even harder, more expensive and less rewarding than ever.
Director of Representation Sam Fowles was quite forthright on the matter, stating that “the shortage of university accommodation is not a new problem and it is one with a very simple solution: we need more accommodation and we need to make it affordable.”