Following the Scottish National Party’s budget proposals, it was revealed that the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) higher education funding budget would be reduced by £21.5 million as of the next academic semester. Considering the SFC grant accounted for 23 per cent of St Andrews’ total income in 2012/13, the University Court has announced their own budget cuts, along with a plan to increase the number of students attending the University.
Although the University claims that this increase in students will not affect the “small-group teaching that is an important part of the St Andrews student experience,” they have also announced their plan to reduce the ratio of teachers to students.
The Students’ Representative Council (SRC) has condemned this proposal, calling for a more serious commitment by the University to “protect the student experience.” Indeed, its intimate atmosphere, small class-sizes and Scottish roots, characterizes St Andrews as a university. Not only will the council’s proposal damage the University’s own image, but it also seems as though these changes will truly burst our bubble.
The University Council’s financial plan in itself is not limited simply to increasing the number of students admitted to the University in the upcoming academic year. Their main focus will be on increasing the number of overseas students. From a financial point of view, this makes perfect sense: the overseas tuition is astronomical compared to that of Scottish or students from the rest of the UK.
However, as is the case with most theories or projections, its application to reality will perhaps not be as simple as predicted. If St. Andrews loses its authentic student experience – the small-town atmosphere, its British presence, as well as its small class-sizes and low student-to-teacher ratio – then it is doubtful that its demand will continue to stay at the rate at which it is currently.
One of the major reasons as to why St Andrews is attractive to American students is its low tuition fee compared to that of American colleges. Yet what is to say that these changes won’t nudge potential applicants towards the University of Edinburgh, whose tuition for arts students is projected to remain below £16,000?
In addition to the University’s financial proposal seeming flawed in itself, it has also engendered worry amongst the current student population. One of the main causes of concern relates to the budget cut’s effect on student welfare. With Times Higher Education reporting that the Scottish government spending on student bursaries and grants was cut by more than £35 million last year, any reduction in student welfare will have serious consequences for Scottish students in particular. Yet the impact of the financial situation in Scotland will also be felt by overseas students.
Indeed, the University is increasing its tuition for overseas (arts, divinity and science) students from £16,230 to £17,040, with further rises for the subsequent academic years indicated for up to £18,780.
Already, St Andrews students will be struggling to deal with the impact of the changes in accommodation bursaries offered by the University. For the next academic year, the amount of bursaries offered to returning students will decrease from 90 to 39. Furthermore, the rising prices of accommodation compound the current situation for students who struggle financially. Indeed, the new private accommodation, Ayton House will cost a total of £10,710 per academic year.
Even for St Andrews’ standards, these prices exceeded all possible predictions for the cost of their new accommodation, with the most expensive currently being the David Russell Apartments at £7,717. This, coupled with what is being referred to as the “St Andrews Housing Crisis,” seriously calls into question the logistics of the University’s plan to increase their student population: their “more students and less-but-more-expensive-accommodation”-plan is either inherently flawed or simply complacent to the needs of the University’s student population.
Whether or not this increase will actively affect our every-day lives remains uncertain. One potential concern is the level of over-subscribed modules. This year, for instance, many modules have been completely filled, leaving many disappointed and unable to take their module of choice. Increasing the student population while simultaneously reducing the number of teachers will compound this issue, and will reduce our lectures’ current intimate atmosphere.
Ultimately, while the student population is at large deeply sympathetic with the University’s current financial situation, it seems that the University Court itself either haven’t considered the consequences of their projected financial plan, or simply deem it a necessary evil. If the University is indeed taking this matter seriously, then greater transparency between the University and the student population is crucial.