Accommodation bursary numbers slashed

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Photo: University of St Andrews

The number of accommodation bursaries being offered to returning students will be reduced from over 90 to 39 for the next academic year, according to figures on the University’s website.

This is because each bursary will be bigger, increasing from £1,000 to £3,000 per person. Bursaries will be available for 35 undergraduates and four postgraduates.

The bursaries will also no longer be available for anyone wishing to live in Albany Park – the cheapest University accommodation available – or entrant students hoping to live in Andrew Melville Hall.

Changes to the bursary system were made last year as part of the University’s plans to increase social mobility. Previously, accommodation in Albany Park, Fife Park and Andrew Melville was offered at a subsidised rate for all residents. The new bursary system aims to allow financially disadvantaged students to live in any University owned hall, by giving those in need a bursary which can be used to help pay for a more expensive hall.

With the redevelopment of Fife Park underway and plans made to redevelop both Albany and Melville, the University wishes to eradicate the ‘ghettoisation’ of financially disadvantaged students.

However the revised system can only be applied for by returning students in April. Since these students must accept their offer of accommodation in halls by early March, students hoping to make use of the bursary will not know if they will be awarded it when accepting an offer of accommodation.

In an email circulated to residents, the Albany Park committee criticised the changes and the system itself. They said: “The bursary system lacks transparency, particularly regarding eligibility and selection. Furthermore the time-frame for application forces someone to accept an accommodation offer a month before they are able to apply for a bursary – this leaves people vulnerable to being rejected for a bursary, but signed on to an accommodation they can now not afford.”

The committee went on to say that this highlights the housing crisis in St Andrews, particularly with regards to affordability for less well-off students. The email said: “Hall accommodation prices are rising every year and not simply with inflation. Rental prices are rising as they have no competition in university halls. After the redevelopment of Albany Park, there will be no low price accommodation.

“The housing situation in St Andrews is turning into a crisis, which will soon be alienating entire communities like Albany and preventing people from all areas of life applying to the University.”

Nick Farrer, a first year student living in Albany Park (who also serves as the Fresher’s Representative on the hall committee) was rejected for a bursary. Despite financial hardship and worries that with increasing hall prices – which the bursary system is intended to offset – he, and others like him, will not be able to continue studying at St Andrews.

“Without Albany Park I’d have been priced out of the University,” he told The Saint.

He also pointed out that, according to information he received when speaking to the Students’ Association president, Pat Mathewson, “about half of the bursary fund is discretionary, compared to around five per cent at most other universities.”

This means that rather than being means tested, most of the University’s bursary funds are allocated based on individual information provided by the student in the application.

Mr Farrer also went on to criticise the system that St Andrews uses to support financially disadvantaged students, compared to the other universities he considered attending. “Every other university had a page on their website saying what you’re eligible for if you’re in ‘x’ or ‘y’ financial bracket,” he said. “St Andrews didn’t – they had a bursary application system which you could try your luck with and get a response from a month before the final UCAS deadline.”

Other students such as Liam Stott and Mariam Mahmood – both first years currently living in Albany Park who receive the accommodation bursary – were planning to apply for University owned accommodation for next year, but decided not to because of the changes in the bursary system. Instead they are now seeking private accommodation.

When asked why he was choosing private accommodation, Mr Stott said: “It’s mostly because it’s unlikely I’ll get into Albany again next year and I wouldn’t be able to afford the more expensive halls, especially with not knowing whether or not I would get a bursary until April.”

Ms Mahmood also said she is choosing private accommodation because there is “no guarantee of getting back into Albany Park” and not knowing whether or not she would receive the bursary that would allow her to stay in the more expensive halls.

For those applying to the University for 2015 entry, there are 46 undergraduate and 12 postgraduate awards of £3,000 per annum for the first two years of study, available from September 2015. This funding will only be available to those staying in David Russell Apartments, Agnes Blackadder Hall and any standard catered residence (excluding Andrew Melville Hall) for Undergraduates and Deans Court, Fife Park and Fife Park Apartments for Postgraduates.

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