Union survey sees students leading future of University accommodation

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Andrew Melville (Photo: itmpa)

Student Accommodation remains firmly on the St Andrews agenda with the Students’ Association and University working together on the best way to implement results from the SRC’s (Student Representative Council) Accommodation Survey.

Carried out at the start of the academic year, almost a thousand students completed the survey across a wide spread of academic years and accommodation situations. This equals the University’s own survey completed by students at the end of the last academic year.

Dougal Adamson, SRC Accommodation Officer, feels the SRC survey compliments that of the University: “Where RBS’s [Residential and Business Services] yearly survey looks for the students to review their experience of the last year in halls in terms of satisfaction, the SRC Accommodation Survey focused more on the future, and specifically what a future hall might look like (if people even want one) as well looking more broadly at some Accommodation Issues within St Andrews.”

The findings were presented by Mimi Taylor and Cassi Roberts of the SRC Accommodation team on Friday 2 November to members of the Universities Residential Strategy Working Group, who are behind the long terms decisions for university accommodation.

Student accommodation has been an increasingly prevalent issue across universities in the UK with a joint report from the NUS and Unipol revealing that average university accommodation prices have almost doubled over the last ten years in Scotland, with a 19% increase seen over just the past three years.

Martin Blakey, Chief Executive, Unipol Student Homes said: “Costs of private sector accommodation and educationally provided accommodation have moved much closer together over the last three years. It is important for universities and colleges to acknowledge the vital role they have to play in enhancing access and the student experience by providing distinctive and affordable accommodation for their students within a not for profit framework.”

According to the SRC survey St Andrews students value cost, location and hall spirit as the determining factors in choosing a hall of residence and 66% said they felt a sense of hall spirit in their accommodation.  Students were also overwhelmingly in favour of the integration of financially assessed students into other halls of residence through grants and bursaries with 78% saying they would support this. 83% were in favour of the expansion of existing halls to accommodate more students and 60% would be willing for the University to work with outside developers.

The SRC survey results will have their first impact on the all important affordable end of university housing next semester during the refurbishment of Fife Park. Recently Fife Park residents were offered places in DRA and Agnes Blackadder Hall starting in January 2013 partly as a way to make use of the almost 300 vacant rooms left in halls.

Outside of University owned accommodation, the SRC survey also found that 67% of students asked said they found it difficult or very difficult to find private accommodation in St Andrews, with only 8.5% saying they found it easy.

This has been reflected in the setting up of a new Town Commission by the Community Council of St Andrews who are hoping to combat what has been officially labelled a “pressured housing area.” A reference group has been created, headed by Graham Wynd of the St Andrews Preservation Trust and comprising of the local elected councillors and representatives from the Students’ Association, the University, the Community Council, the Residents’ Associations and the Preservation Trust.

The Commission will first gather information on housing in the town through a survey and through talks with important stakeholders such as council housing officials, landlords associations, university and tenants. After analysing the data collected, the Commission will formulate recommendations to address the problem and present these recommendations to the relevant authorities.

Student’s Association President Freddie Fforde has praised the Accommodation team’s efforts: “I’m delighted to see a constructive approach between the Association and the University in working together on what we want the future to look like.”

He added: “The University now has a valuable data set that will guide answers to our accommodation problems in a manner that is directly led by student views – that is how we will best achieve positive change ahead.”

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