During its six hundred years of existence, the University of St Andrews has evolved with the town. While students have successfully maintained some older traditions throughout the years, advances in technology and the evolution of society are changing the University and its environment in various ways. Today, it can be said that part of the University’s charm is due to its combination of both modernity and tradition. Will it still be the case in the future? How will the University and its town evolve in the next fifty years? Although a definite answer cannot be given to these questions, it is interesting to speculate on how the bubble will look like at a time when most of the current generation of students will be retired.
In fifty years, the appearance of the town of St Andrews will most certainly resemble what it looks like today, although some notable changes are expected to come up. Currently, millions of pounds are being invested in making Scotland’s cities smarter through the Scottish Cities Alliance, aimed to improve services and infrastructures such as energy, mobility, waste and innovation. While St Andrews is not included in this alliance due to size, it will hopefully absorb the benefits from this initiative that will inevitably affect Scotland as a whole.
Fifty years ago, in 1968, the train connected Leuchars to St Andrews for the last time. Would it be too unrealistic to expect the train line to come back? For many students, the isolation of St Andrews can be a frustrating factor. The bus is not always a hundred per cent reliable, private shuttles can be expensive or unavailable, so there’s a high possibility that mobility in, to and from St Andrews will be improved and transport times reduced to make the town more connected to the rest of Scotland and the UK.
What about changes in the town itself? A diversity in shops would surely be welcomed. After all, how many Scottish souvenir stores are really needed in such a small town as St Andrews when most of them are empty every day? Andrea Mariani and Kamilla Rekvényi, two fifth-year Maths students, agree on that statement, affirming that Scottish souvenir shops keep appearing despite the need for more variety. For Ms Rekvényi: “it would be great to have more cafés where you can sit and study”, while for Mr Mariani: “some better and healthier food options will hopefully appear, as well as a fitness studio conveniently located in the town centre, for both residents and students.”
Sofia Bairamukova, a fourth-year International Relations student is less optimistic regarding the disappearance of Scottish souvenir stores: “They will probably have taken over St Andrews in fifty years’ time.” She jokingly adds: “We will definitely still see a lot of Barbour jackets and red pants around, and there still won’t be any McDonalds in sight.”
Concerning the town’s appearance, Mr Mariani notes: “the Christmas lights have been out for too long now,”, and wonders whether they will finally be taken off in fift years.
St Andrews is known for its Scottish Gothic architecture, charming age-old streets, tiny passages and historic ruins. In the middle of all of this, modern buildings with tall windows and sleek lines are surfacing due to the University’s expansion and renoation projects. The town is therefore expected to have an expanded and updated skyline with more spacious and taller buildings.
In St Andrews, we can consider ourselves lucky to live in a town wher we can enjoy clean air, beautiful landscapes and a healthy quality of life. Still, both the town and the Universit will be expected to improve and advance efforts towards environmental sustainability without compromising its residents’ quality of life, such as using more renewable energy sources and work towards reducing the carbon footprint where possible. If small town like St Andrews succeeds in becoming a smarter and greener city and successfully implements policies that protect the environment, it can be a model for other cities.
For changes in the University, the recently unveiled strategy can offer us some insight into what the institution wants to achieve in the next years. One of the high points of the strategy is the goal towards more diversity. Therefore, if the policies succeed, greater diversity in both students an staff can be expected, whether in racial, ethnic, socio-economic, religious, or gendered terms.
Based on current and future construction projects, the University will keep on expanding. Consequently, the number of students will keep on growing, which leads to a worrying question: will the housing crisis ever be solved, without compromising the University’s relationship with the town? Hopefully, by then, a solution will be set in place, perhaps even in the form of long-distance learning for some degrees, for which students will not have to attend classes on a regular basis and only come for exams or other specific in-class assignments. The most significant advantage of such a strategy is that students will not necessarily have to be living in town or its surroundings, which would leave more space for those who need to. An obvious downside would be that long-distance learning would deprive students of an ‘authentic’ student experience in which social life and face-to-face interaction play a significant part. Nevertheless, as world-class universities such as Berkeleyin California or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are increasingly offering online programs, other universities are expected to follow.
Although external changes will undoubtedly influence the future of St Andrews and its University, Iuliia Drobysh, fourth-year IR student believes that everything will ultimately depend on our community. She notes: “If we are given more initiative, then we will be an activist town that will revolutionise Scotland.” However, it could also go the other way: “if the community’s initiatives are ignored, then a lack of dynamism would make the town decay.”
At the end of the day, as the University occupies a significant place in the town’s environment, the way town and gown interact with one another will strongly influence the way St Andrews develops in the next fifty years.
Most probably, there won’t be any flying cars nor robotic tutors in 2068, but hopefully, the best traditions will live on alongside modern developments and technologies.