St Andrews is an inhospitable environment for poorer students. This is because of the pricing of accommodation, events and smaller more nominal fees.
The first and most obvious way that St Andrews could be accused of behaving in an inconsiderate manner, is through the accommodation. Now, this is not an angry rant about how accommodation fees in St Andrews are too high – although that would be valid. What I am specifically referencing is that the university doesn’t allow for monthly payments for accommodation fees, even though most students loans (or “maintenance loans”) come through in monthly instalments. So, if your family can’t fork out a lump sum of over a grand three times a year – the best that the university offers – you might be in trouble. So, for the fresher, excited for university, this is the first step they encounter with a system that is somewhat inhospitable to poorer students.
Following this, students then get to experience the enjoyment of events, beginning with fresher’s week, which to be fair is quite cheap, normally around five to eight pounds. With the exception of Starfields which was £35 for the cheapest ticket, with the most expensive ticket being £39. Also during fresher’s week, new students get to enjoy buying a gown, which is a cheap £95 second hand and an even cheaper £159 new, which the new student will most likely have to get as second hand ones run out quite quickly.
Now, of course the gown is optional, and no event forces students to wear it, but it is considered a tradition and staple of St Andrews which many students feel is an integral part of the St Andrews student experience. Then of course there are the balls, which are again optional, and again very much a part of the student experience. But still optional. The Christmas ball ticket is £35 and the opening ball one costs £36. Neither of these sums are horrifically extortionate on their own, but quickly add up; particularly if you include the price of a suit or a dress. These events often leave students who struggle to pay in an awkward position of being broke or left out.
Then of course there is the social culture, which is geared to the upper and middle classes. Between black tie (and occasionally white tie events), the expensive suits and dresses for the balls and ceilidhs, as well as the public debates on Thursdays, where, while there are no membership or entrance fees, the majority in attendance seem to be wearing a gown over some sort of formal attire. It is easy to see how a poorer or working class student would feel ostracised. This sort of social environment makes St Andrews look like a playden for those who are rich enough to afford the best, which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable, but that in order to be more inclusive these events need to be cheaper.
This also isn’t just a problem for students from a poorer socioeconomic background, it’s a problem for a lot of students generally. Because students generally don’t have a lot of money. A massive part of the student life is bankrupting yourself during freshers week, and spending the next few months licking tepid beer spills off of tables, while everyone else in the union looks for the one pablo that got knocked over. Having a student experience that is expensive effects most of the students here in a negative way.
Another problem that comes with all this, is simply that poorer potential students, will hear about how expensive and inhospitable St Andrews is (possibly from articles like this) and decide not to go here. I know of people who refused to apply here because of the reputation and I’ve heard similar stories from other students so this really is a problem, which is a massive shame. This really is a great university to go to, with a wonderful social experience and really great teaching and amazing opportunities.
There is, as always, more to go into, the cost for science students of lab coats and lab fees, the cost of joining a sports team, something which is viewed as important here in St Andrews.
But the point isn’t some numbers data dumped onto a page, but also what this means. The fact is that students who are from poorer backgrounds come to this university and are left out of the best events, struggle with the cost of accommodation, and generally have to experience a great deal more pressure than their wealthier classmates. Which to me seems unreasonable. I also don’t think it should come as a surprise to anyone that this university is viewed as snobby, ridiculously middle class, and generally for those who are privileged and have spent a life in private education. Because it is. With students pouring Champagne over themselves to the cackles of the Daily Mail, and the black-tie events, it is hard not to look at St Andrews and view it as a bastion of privilege.
Which is not to say that St Andrews isn’t trying to do better, it has a bursary fund which gives £500 a year. Not to mention student loans are staggered so that students from poorer backgrounds do get more.
However, this still isn’t great. I’ve met students who’ve complained about the cost of St Andrews, as well as a few who gotten part time jobs to help get more money. After all only 56.7 percent of the students here are state educated, even though 93 percent of the British public attended state schools. For the reputation of the unversity, St Andrews should do something for poorer students.
A good first step to deal with this issue would be to introduce a monthly payment system for university run accommodation, which would bluntly be beneficial to most students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. It wouldn’t solve all, or many of the problems, but it would be a good place to start.