On the bus to Bongo Ball on 25 October, a series of realisations flooded into my mind. What would happen if profits from student events went towards improving our beloved University, instead of going to nebulous causes we knew little about? How could student infrastructure and services be improved if more student events fundraised for this purpose instead of more glamourous, CV-plumping international causes?
At Bongo Ball, the tickets were £35 and 737 students reportedly attended. Consequently, Bongo Ball allegedly raised £25,795 in total, not including the profits made from drinks sold throughout the night. Bongo pledged to give this money to its designated charity, the Xavier Project.
This semester, most of the widely publisiced and sought-after events promised to donate all profits to an external charity. If this type of enthu- siasm was put towards improving St Andrews itself, students could equip an under-stocked library with better resources and improve the quality and variety of hall food, thereby rectifying two of the main problems I’ve heard students comment on during my time in St Andrews.
Charities have played an integral role in St Andrews’ culture since the founding of the Charities Campaign. We have raised £1,051,000 for charity within the last 20 years. But despite St Andrews’ great philanthropic efforts its own endowment is just under £50 million, with only a small fraction allocated to the development of student infrastructure and services.
Even though the University is trying to increase its endowment, it is evident that student charity efforts greatly exceed the endowment efforts. These charity efforts, although impressive, distract students and administration from internally underfunded services. According to the St Andrews library, there are currently no plans to pursue further development. Despite the £14 million renovation project in 2011, the library is still inept at meeting the needs of the student population. This project added additional study spaces, a café and later hours – I shudder to think what the library was like in 2010 and before.
These “improvements” go unnoticed by visiting prospective students – in fact, my only reservation about attending St Andrews was the library, or lack thereof. While visiting St Andrews on an open day, a history professor even admitted that the history department lacked adequate books available for students.
The physical lack of space is the most evident flaw within the library – often students are lucky to find a desk to work on, or even a chair. The atmosphere is overcrowded and stressful, as St Andrews’ 7,200 students attempt to work side by side and fight over the meager book supply. When classes of 200 students are all writing the same essay topic, writing the best paper becomes a contest of who can run to the library the fastest. In IR1005 this year, many students wrote an essay regarding Stephen D Krazner’s Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy.
Instantly this book flew off the library shelves, forcing others to purchase the book online in order to complete the essay. At a top-leveel academic institution such as St Andrews, the presence of such problems is patently ludicrous – how can St Andrews consider itself among the ranks of Oxford and Cambridge if even its first-years can’t get their hands on necessary course readings?
Another problem that needs to be addressed at St Andrews is the selection and amount of food. This issue came to my attention as I waited in the lunch line at Zest, anxious to get my weekly dose of vegetables. I began to wonder why so many students congregated here for lunch, instead of eating the prepaid meals waiting for them back in their residence halls.
My fellow peers in line explained to me that the poor quality of the hall food was “zapping energy from their souls,” “causing them to feel sick,” and “gain far too much weight.” As I went to dinner in my hall that evening, I observed the dismal salad bar. I came to the realization that all it contained was a few slices of red pepper, tomato and iceberg lettuce. If a healthy food fund were created, the salad bar could be improved: offering up new nutritious options such as broccoli, chickpeas, carrots, kale or quinoa on a consistent basis. The fact that food is ‘allotted’ – that is, served in rations as opposed to a buffet – is strange and frankly outrageous in a supposedly high-end university. We are not in prison.
St Andrews needs to reconsider how it allocates funds. Instead of putting the revenue from all student initiatives towards charities, students and University administration should fundraise to improve the quality of the Bubble itself before giving away most of its raised money to external causes.
Pursuing charitable causes is a noble idea, but the paramount priority for students at the University of St Andrews should be the education and health of its own students and faculty. Ideally, our university would not need drastic improvement in certain areas – unfortunately, it does. Taking on a balanced approach by sending money to both internal and external projects would allow students and faculty to thrive inside the Bubble, and thus be more internally equipped to give to causes abroad as well.