Autumn is fast approaching and the hunt for student flats is on. Hidden underneath the struggles of scraping together a deposit, avoiding shark landlords and the realisation that what looked like the flat of your dreams on the website is actually a damp and grotty nightmare is a problem that has the potential to develop into something a lot more sinister. A rising prejudice against students within their communities.
The stigma surrounding students has become sharply pronounced in Surrey, where stickers reading “no more students taking family houses” have been stuck on rent signs in the area. Those rallying behind this have even added in a helpful “prats” annotation to the stickers, further conveying their anger at the fact that students have had the audacity to move out of halls and integrate into the local community.
While the stickers have been condemned by many Surrey locals, these events still highlight that a significant number simply don’t understand modern student life. For a lot of people, students are seen as simply lazy youths who sleep all day and party all night (with a little bit of studying thrown in at exam time) and whilst there are always going to be certain groups of students who fit this stereotype, it is still precisely that – a stereotype. Some people may resent the fact that they have to share their building with students who want to get ‘mad with it’ every weekend, but then many students will resent having to share a block with fighting families, musicians who practice until the early hours of the morning, and elderly couples who have their television set so loud that all of the unfolding drama on Eastenders can be heard loud and clear through the wall. Students are just like any other neighbours in that there are going to be good ones, and there are going to be bloody annoying ones. The fact that they are at university should not be a deciding factor.
Concerns about where students live is not unique to Surrey either – local councillors in Glasgow have expressed their worries that too many students are now living in Partick. Labour councillor Aileen Colleran admitted her ‘slight unease about the amount of student accommodation in the area’ stating that ‘we have reached tipping point. Enough is enough.’
However it isn’t enough – with rising rent prices and an increase in students enrolling each year, there is a significant lack of affordable student flats in the West End. Students are getting pushed into accommodation that is either out of their budgets or out of walking distance from campus, therefore adding on travel expenses.
This should not be the case. The University of Glasgow is a huge asset to the West End. With over 6000 staff on the payroll the university is a major employer in the city, and student volunteers give an enormous amount back to the community they call home. For example, treatment offered by the Dental School is completely free, not simply subsidised like on the NHS. Initiatives such as this one allow those who may not be able to afford dental treatment to still seek important medical care, while at the same time providing students with invaluable experience for their degree.
SNP Councillor Kenny McLean conceded that “students have got to live somewhere” (congratulations to him for recognising that we have human rights) going on to say that “if they live in dedicated student accommodation that’s fine.” The problem with McLean’s statement is that while there is plenty private accommodation to be found in the West End – Claremont House, Hyndland House, and Gibson Street to name but a few – prices start at roughly £130 per week, rates which the majority of the student population simply cannot afford.
Keeping students in their own little bubble safely away from the rest of the community, as McLean and the Surrey sticker-vandal seem to be suggesting, will not bring students closer to the communities that they are a part of. Yes, there is a significant lack of housing for students in the West End, and yes, purpose built accommodation for students is needed. But that does not mean that all students should be confined to it. The tensions in Surrey came from a lack of understanding within the community, and encouraging separation rather than celebrating the positives that a healthy student population brings will only reinforce this.
[Louisa Burden – @burdisthew0rd]