Completing St Andrews: Are we a “tick-list town?”

George Wilder ruminates on the rigid "tick-list" culture of a town run by University Committees and asks "is the grass greener elsewhere?"


The last pieces of Starfields glitter and Sinners wristbands are swept up, housing is already on people’s mind, and the first 9am lectures have obliterated the hungover lie-ins of yesteryear. It’s happened: Freshers Week is over. Sitting down after the second time round however, it seems getting older at University is simply a reminder of how generic the rest of our lives have been. Our early discoveries somehow become slightly tarnished when, inevitably, we find everyone else has had them as well. It was during my 21st birthday only the other day that this particular thought kept coming back to me. Already my year seems planned out by the must-see events calendar, just like last year. Therefore, as is no doubt the healthy way to deal with such feelings, I found myself making a joke out of how ordinary aspects of my life have been. Take gaming for example, far more time than I care to mention has been spent cradling a controller, be it being endlessly killed in Call of Duty, or repeatedly proving that Dyspraxics were never meant to play Wii Tennis. More recently, just entering my Second Year, I found myself applying those years of screens to my life in the bubble. I see someone arriving in St Andrews wearing a ripped T-Shirt and ruined suede shoes at level one before slowly but surely grinding away at coffee dates and societies to level up. Flawless chinos, a shirt pressed by 1st year disciples, and a permanent pair of Wellingtons announce your presence in what is effectively a very boring version of Grand Theft Auto. It’s enough to make you wonder, does event culture in St Andrews help us to broaden our horizons? Or is it more about “completing” university by the end of four years?


Nowhere is this question more disputed than Freshers Week, where our early conceptions of our St Andrews experience are truly put to the test. We all remember our first steps in town as a Fresher, the Pier Walk, the gown, the signing up for endless activities and sports that will eventually be filtered out by a growing blood alcohol content. And then, as it goes on, a realisation. Isn’t this all a bit… naff? Time accelerates as students look for ways to make the unsteady journey into adulthood beyond watered down cocktails at hall events. Hall events in particular seem to be outgrown within days, limited to the occasional hungover pub quiz and the dash for free Dominos pizza that occurs once a month. In St Andrews the event scene is ruled by one thing and one thing only: the committee run event.


And on the face of it these have been one of the most unbelievable parts of our town. Student Committees are able to raise vast amounts for charity while dictating a range of event options according to the yearly praise or criticism of the student body. This tenet is doubtlessly something that makes sense on paper, and vast amounts donated yearly are a reflection of this. A key issue when comparing St Andrews to other universities however is not the presence of Committee run events, it is the lack of other competitive options. Bristol Freshers week has an abundancy of inventive halls events, often encouraging an atmosphere that I found completely lost during my time in halls. I felt like I belonged to a 1st year halls “family” more during a few days in Loughborough than I ever did surveying the revolving cliques that defined my accommodation. It is this lack of competition that leads to the inevitable, defining our university experience by a few annual events: creating a tick-list culture. The desperation to obtain tickets, especially in first year, offers little flexibility for the nights that define your year. It also starves off interest in the halls and college relationships that are so prevalent in Durham, Bristol and Oxbridge.  


St Andrews events are also often the subject of criticism for its exclusivity, something that remains in the high ticket prices of some events. Yet, it actually makes a great deal of sense considering how dominated the market it is, as everyone strives to get into sell out events committees stage ever more impressive and thus ever more expensive nights. You’d also be wrong to assume that escalating prices are reflected only by committees. The idea of price is seen everywhere in St Andrews. My friends at Newcastle, a crowded market place where the nights are largely run by events companies, scoff at the idea that an event like Clan Warfare costed £8 this year. I dare to mention that I’ve been to events that cost more than their Freshers Wristband, which includes go-karting and paintballing during the day as well as subsidised nights out. Indeed, surrounded by the apparent unity of halls in some universities, and the low prices of the privately run market place in others, it can be easy to feel short changed.


Yet, while it may be true that our year is rigid, my digging at ten other UK universities reveals that, in actuality, there is more to our events culture that meets the eye. While other towns are driven by researchers at private companies, we have a student body that is quite literally obsessed with events. For all the flaws due to the monopoly of student committees, the fact that you can be at a Fashion Show reviewed by the Telegraph one week and a Budapest ruin bar the next, is tribute to how our international blood creates something truly unique. Something you may not find in the four days our Oxford and Cambridge cousins are unlucky to call a Freshers week. In short yes, we are a tick-list town, but what a list.


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