As the accommodation crisis in St Andrews worsens, students find solace in humour. A running joke is that, if nothing else works, there is always the option of living in Dundee. For some students, however, living beyond St Andrews is not a joke but a reality. The Saint talked to some students who live in nearby towns about their daily routine and the challenges of recruiting. For many, their daily journey into the Bubble can take up to an hour.
Max Merkel is a postgraduate International Business student living in student accommodation in Dundee. He was not able to secure a place in University accommodation in St Andrews. Living in Dundee means that Max has to spend approximately 45 minutes on the bus just to get to St Andrews, although he points out that the frequency of buses makes the journey easier.
First year German and Russian student Magdalena Myszura also lives in Dundee. She was not able to arrange for accommodation before arriving in Scotland to begin her degree. After spending a week in a hostel in Cupar and two week at “a flat full of spiders and dust,” she was happy to find a nice flat in Dundee. Magdalena views the daily bus trips as a positive aspect of living outside of St Andrews since they give her time to revise for tests on her way into and out of town.
For most students who commute, it is first and foremost a financial decision to live in Dundee (or elsewhere) as renting costs tend to be much cheaper outside of St Andrews. Magdalena rents a two-bedroom flat with a large living room and a lovely river view for £275 a month. While the cost of rent is relative, this sounds like a far away dream for most students who rent in St Andrews (and who pay much more).
Tomas Armalas is a first year Psychology student who also rents a room in Dundee. He chose to live in Dundee entirely because it was a more viable option for him financially. Even with the added cost of commuting, living in Dundee is still much cheaper than living in St Andrews, generally speaking. There are also more available job positions in Dundee, which means that Tomas is better able to earn money.
On the one hand, Tomas admits that living in Dundee can make one feel very isolated because “every new acquaintance seems to vanish as it is almost never followed up by a meeting of any kind.” Without the community infrastructure provided by living on campus, it can be more difficult for commuter students to meet and befreind people their own age who share their interests. On the other, Dundee can offer things that St Andrews cannot, such as a much wider variety of nightclubs, shops and cafes.
Torben Schwartz provides a different commuting perspective as he lives in St Andrews but commutes to the University of Dundee, where he studies Continental Philosophy. Initially, Torben attended the University of St Andrews, but he later transferred to Dundee. Still, he chose to remain living in St Andrews so he could keep up his connections even after switching schools.
He views the commuting experience as nothing but positive. He says: “Basing yourself in two different towns is great because it gives you significantly more opportunities to meet new people and explore new places.” He also points out that because St Andrews and Dundee are such different environments, “it is extremely refreshing to be in the busyness of Dundee after a long time in St Andrews. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t love coming back to the calm of St Andrews after a hectic day in Dundee.”
However, Torben adds that while he does love living and studying in two places that complement each other so perfectly, he admits that the arrangement does force you to be more organised. He points out that if he forgets something, whatever he needs is a bus journey away.
Although Dundee is certainly the most popular place of residence among St Andrews’ student commuters, it is not the only option. Melissa Turner is a mature student studying at the University. She lives with her family in Blairgowrie, a town around 35 miles north of St Andrews. Public transportation is not an option for her because of scheduling and cost. Instead she drives to St Andrews, which takes her just over an hour. She says: “Being a commuter can make you isolated from the rest of the university experience, but as a mature student I have other aspects of my life such as family that mean my attendance at university is like a job rather than living in university and participating in all aspects.”
To put Melissa’s comment into perspective, it is helpful to know that over 90 per cent of first year students stay in halls. The majority of these students then move into private accommodation locally for the rest of their student careers. However, even though students disperse in and around the St Andrews town centre after their first year, most friendships and social groups are based on the shared experience of living in halls together. Commuters are not privy to this experience, and so it is important that the University makes an effort to engage them in student life beyond the classroom.
Any student who declares commuter student status when he or she matriculates is entitled to a number of certain allowances, according to the University’s website. For example, the Commuters Room is a new lounge area complete with amenities and a kitchen, located on North Street below the ASC. While Melissa mentions that it is not a well-advertised facility, she does say that the room “provides a great sense of community and is a great way to meet a bus buddy to travel late at night with and also make you feel more at home at [the University] rather than just someone who comes across for lectures.”
Commuter students are also able to submit coursework remotely via email rather than as a hard copy, although arrangements must be confirmed on an individual basis and they vary across the academic schools.
Though these services are appreciated, Melissa says that more could be done to improve the experience of students who commute. She suggests that “more assistance with transport costs from the University would be a great way to alleviate the housing crisis we are currently witnessing in St Andrews.”
At this time of the year when many students are stressed out trying to secure accommodation for next year, it is important to remember that there are alternative options available to students. Living outside St Andrews and commuting into town is one of them. As many commuters said, this arrangement is not the worst thing in the world. And every student, regardless of residential or commuter status, knows that sometimes an escape from the Bubble is the best thing in the world.
Do you think that more can be done by the University to improve the commuter student experience?
Do you think encouraging students to commute is a viable solution to address the accommodation crisis in St Andrews?
Leave your comments online at www.thesaint-online.com.