Postgraduate students are being encouraged to live outside of St Andrews while staff are being urged to let out their spare rooms as the University attempts to handle this year’s accommodation problems.
Postgraduates have faced particular difficulties finding space this year owing to an increase in the intake of undergraduate students, for whom University accommodation is guaranteed, and the loss of some dedicated postgraduate housing.
Fife Park is currently undergoing redevelopment, at a temporary cost of 162 beds, while undergraduate students are occupying 62 of the 86 rooms in Gannochy House. Eden Court, another residence normally reserved for postgraduate students, has been turned into offices.
For the academic year 2013-14, 761 postgraduates took up offers of University accommodation. For the academic year 2014-15, 374 postgrad- uates accepted accommodation of- fers. This means that the number of postgraduates in University accommodation this year has more than halved.
The University was unable to provide figures for the number of offers made. However, 774 post- graduates applied for University accommodation.
In the academic year 2009-10, 1395 undergraduates entered the University through UCAS applications. By 2013-14, this figure stood at 1540. The total number of entrant undergraduates last year was 1770.
To deal with the increasingly pressured situation, the University has asked members of staff to let out their spare rooms or vacant properties. Benjamin Stuart, the director of Residential and Business Services for the University, explained that a num- ber of staff live abroad for periods of time and so may have properties sit- ting empty. Letting these properties to postgraduates in need, he said, was simply “connecting the dots”.
The University has also been advising postgraduates in search of private accommodation to look outside St Andrews. Its website provides links to numerous housing options in places such as Dundee and Cupar. Accommodation is often cheaper and more readily available in these places, though they incur the cost and inconvenience of a commute.
Mr Stuart said that postgraduate students had been willing to cooperate and that they did not find commuting into St Andrews to be much of a problem. He feels that enough has been done to solve the situation for this year, saying it has “not been ideal, but we’ve managed”.
Niall Scott, the University’s director of communications, said: “We have a longstanding guarantee to provide accommodation to all entrant undergraduate students. We do not and have never guaranteed accommodation to our postgraduate students, although we do everything possible to provide accommodation to postgraduates who want it, or enable them to make arrangements in the local private rented sector.”
He continued: “This year we have again worked very closely with the Students’ Association from early summer to raise awareness amongst postgraduate students of likely accommodation demands in 2014-15. We have pursued a wide range of initiatives to offer alternatives to university accommodation. These include meeting with private property factors to raise awareness of demand and encourage them to assist and respond to postgraduate inquiries.”
In the long run, said Mr Stuart, the University’s goal would be to guarantee accommodation for post- graduate students as well.
Having been in the job for only 11 weeks, Mr Stuart said he felt confident that he has “handled the situation” well and spoke of wanting to build up a good relationship with students by taking a “front facing” approach. He feels that his team have worked well with the Students’ Association, with which they have “proactively sought solutions”.
One of these was the Private Accommodation Viewing Service (PAVS), launched by the Association in July, which aims to help postgraduates who are unable to view properties in person, such as those coming from abroad. A volunteer will view the house, take photographs and write a detailed report.
Though this service seems to have helped, it has not worked in all cases. One postgraduate student, Mory Clark, said: “The big problem I had was being able to contact [PAVS]… I missed a couple of properties be- cause the landlords said they could not rent a property that hadn’t been viewed, so I used the [PAVS] system which would view it on my behalf. There were cases where I didn’t get a response for the service and by the time someone got back to me the property was already let.”
He continued: “The search did get very stressful with me even con- sidering to not come to St Andrews, as I was scared that I would not be able to get accommodation. This was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t realise that living in Dundee is a feasible option.”
Mr Clark applied for University accommodation but was unsuccessful. He has now found private accommodation, however.
Mr Stuart said the University’s handling of accommodation this year had been “a smooth process” and it had received few complaints.
He also said that he had been able to provide University accommodation to four postgraduates who had forgotten to organise their housing.
Yet a number of postgraduate students still find themselves without accommodation, particularly owing to difficulties faced by older and overseas students. Applications for postgraduate University accommodation opened in April and closed in late June, while most students secure private accommodation around January – too soon for many postgraduates who are unaware of St Andrews’ housing problems or are still unsure whether they will be able to attend the University.
“I faced a difficulty with accommodation because I had some delays with my scholarship and UK visa, so I started looking very late,” explained Zhanibek Arynov, one postgraduate student still to secure accommodation.
“All properties had been already allocated; on top of that I was too late to the University accommodation. I talked with some of my friends that are returning students [in St Andrews] so they advised me to try to contact private agencies / agents. But they don’t have anything [either]. So I am still [in] the process of searching [for] accommodation.”
My Arynov did feel that the University had tried its best to help, providing lots of information. He blamed himself for leaving his accommodation search so late.
When asked about the undergraduate housing squeeze that saw groups of three and four freshers placed in converted common rooms and study areas, Mr Stuart said that this had been a “last resort”. Mr Stuart also pointed out that these rooms had been used as bedrooms in the past.
He said that the people in these rooms were happy and the solution had worked well, but that all residents in three and four bed rooms had now been given the option to move.
A St Regulus resident confirmed that the University have said he will be moved out of his current three bed room by the end of the semester. He hopes that he can remain in St Regulus when this happens, having made friends there. However, a University Hall resident who lives in a three bed room, confirmed that she had not been approached by the University on this matter. She said that she was happy with her room and did not want to move, however.
It is hoped that managing the University accommodation situation will be easier next year, when the newly redeveloped Fife Park will offer 324 beds. Two new privately-owned halls will provide even more accommodation in the coming years. Mr Stuart made assurances that he would be meeting with the companies involved to ensure sufficient levels of student care.
Problems with HMO licensing, however, mean that Andrew Melville Hall will not be open for the 2015-16 academic year while it undergoes a minor redevelopment to meet current standards. This will see a temporary loss of 279 beds and one of the University’s cheaper halls. Melville’s status as an A-listed building means it will not be dramatically altered.