In an era when the cost of education is higher than it has ever been, and around this time of year when the most hot-button topic on the streets of St Andrews is finding accommodation for the next academic year, it’s important to address a big problem St Andrews not only has, but is seemingly worsening. The price of accommodation provided by the university is sky-high, and actions are being taken to further reduce the availability of affordable accommodation.
St. Andrews has, to many folks, an outward image of being attended and populated by many students who come from comfortable backgrounds and financially well-off families. Regardless of nationality or where students grew up or spent their lives, there is a significant population of students who do not have access to the type of money that makes student life a lot more bearable. A significant amount of money is directed, often in lump sums, to putting a roof over one’s head for at least nine months of the year, often longer. Yet the university continues to show its disregard for this, especially for incoming first-year students or returning students who may not even be aware of the application process for university-managed houses. A notable step backwards has been taken recently by the university in making the decision to demolish Albany Park, and in the interim building two new state-of-the-art halls which will be priced far above what Albany, being one of the most affordable halls options, cost. Perhaps these new developments will cater to a new demographic target by the university, but the changes in accommodation options leave a large number of students high and dry, with a more limited number of spaces available in the now-cheapest halls. I think it impossible to find this situation anything but incredibly unfair.
Some may see this situation, though, and say “get a job” or “apply for a grant from the university or a loan the government.” Well, this is what I would have to say to those replies. First of all, one must be aware in the first place that awards from the university exist, which could potentially make an important difference when a loan from the government is given on the condition (being a loan) that it be paid back. Secondly, a student’s or family’s financial circumstances are not as cut and dry as whether they do or do not make enough yearly, on paper, to cover an academic year’s worth of housing. A student’s parents may earn “x” amount which is above the cap for access to awards, and can cover this student’s accommodation costs, but what if that student has two, three, or more siblings all needing access to these same funds? What if this student’s family refuses to pay for accommodation? What if barely any assistance from the government is provided? Circumstances can be more nuanced than simply one number on a piece of paper. Lastly, a job only earns so much, especially in the life of a busy student who has a degree and other commitments to worry about, not to mention more often than not being put on an uncertain, zero-hour contract. Hence, there often is no easy or feasible way out of an un-ideal financial situation when it comes to accommodation.
Scrimping and saving pennies here and there are familiar tactics for many folks who pay rent and accommodation fees monthly. Some may call this a quintessential part of the student experience. A good friend of mine articulated to me, though, that there are different “student experiences,” one of which is dictated by access to more expensive ways of living, which start with accommodation. It’s sad that this disparity exists. There are many areas that university administrations and students alike would like to see more financial investment – one of the most important, in my opinion, is in affordable accommodation for St Andrews students. Albany Park will be sorely missed.