For many students studying in St Andrews, sport is at the core of their student experience; with the university being granted top spot of the 2023 Guardian Universities Guide, we looked at the sports facilities on offer at the University, and how inaccessible sport can be for students at supposedly the number one university in the UK.
Speaking to a fellow third year undergraduate student, I was told how angered and frustrated it made her that the “ridiculous term ‘Stocksbridge’ was being flown about town” at a time when sports facilities such as a “swimming pool and athletics track are nowhere to be seen for the University students”.
Stoxbridge is a term recently used in an article published by The Guardian, suggesting the frequently used term Oxbridge, a portmanteau of the two most respected and prestigious universities in the UK, Oxford and Cambridge, should be adapted to include St Andrews due to its recent success in the league tables. With the University not owning a swimming pool, and due to the recent Health and Safety check which deemed the university running track unsafe to use and resulted in its closure, the University is now left without key sports facilities.
A member of the athletics club indicated athletics is a “very inclusive sport” as there is a “culture among many clubs across the country that rely heavily on volunteers”, meaning that the membership costs are able to remain consistently low throughout the UK. Athletics is one of the most accessible sports as it requires little personal equipment and few facilities as well as also being a sport done by the majority of schools, unlike sports such as lacrosse or rugby. Before its closure, students were able to use the athletics track without purchasing the Saints Sports membership; therefore, those who are suffering most from the closure of the track will not only be those frequent users from athletics clubs but active students who are unable to afford membership fees.
When coming to university, joining a sports team is a great way to make new friends and meet new people; however, this is increasingly becoming a luxury. I spoke to a first-year student who wanted exactly this but was unable to join a sports team due to the eye-watering membership cost. Students can either pay membership annually or for each semester, but they are currently unable to pay in monthly installments. As a result, many students who do not have the funds are left unable to get involved in sports.
We reached out to the AU President, Ailsa Martin to include her perspective on the inaccessibility of sports in St Andrews, and she explained that there is currently “no way to pay sports club memberships in instalments or by direct debit, and systems like this would present several financial challenges”. She said that unfortunately “memberships need to be collected at the beginning of the academic year so that the money is available to meet upfront costs and secure activity for the full year”. Alisa also indicates that due to the current financial climate that we are in they are “considering a sustainable system whereby we can support some individuals who may require an instalment plan to afford a club or gym membership but are not eligible for Access Scholarships” which would benefit so many students.
Students who do not have a Saints Sport membership are still welcome to use the facilities and access services by paying for an activity ticket, £7 for each visit. Understandably some sports require more equipment, such as Ice Hockey for example, where an annual student membership costs £399. Recreational netball, which takes place once a week, has a membership cost of £133 but to access the sports facilities outside of the netball practice which occurs once a week, you would have to pay a further sum. Ailsa Martin clarified, however, that undergraduates with a “household income of less than £40,000 are eligible for a discounted or free membership”. For further information for the ‘St Andrews Access Scholarship’ information on this is available on the University website.
Dance club is the cheapest annual standard membership, currently at £40, and on top of this last year it was also the club with the most members. This would suggest that there is a correlation between the price of club membership and the number of students who are involved. Another student felt that “health and wellbeing is a privilege” at the University of St Andrews, and that their priorities are solely academic whilst neglecting other aspects of student life.
Sports clubs have taken their own initiative to try and tackle the significant membership costs, leading by example are the University of St Andrews Dance Club's competitive and athletic team called and The Blue Angels.They have set up their own system to support students who may not otherwise be able to afford the membership prices and to give everyone the opportunity to be able to be part of competitive dance. The Dance Club established the ‘Blue Angels Bursary’ which is a partnership between the Dance Club, Money Advice at Student Services, and Saints Sport. Donations are collected through The Saints Funder and include profits from club performance ticket sales. This goes to show how important individual clubs are in making their own sport financially accessible and the dance club are paving the way for other sports to follow suit.
In a time of financial strain for all students and staff alike, students are increasingly finding it difficult to be able to afford the rising sports membership costs and gym membership. £195 is the price for an annual Saints Sports membership; this entitles you to many benefits such as access to the main gym, access to the Saints fitness class programme and access to facilities for casual sport. This is a similar price point to commercial gym memberships. Sport is a luxury that is no doubt. For those of you who may not have been able or wanted to commit to the significant membership costs, Saints Sport do run weekly recreational sports activities on a Tuesday evening at 8.30pm in the Sports Area and sessions are open to anyone! These sessions are free throughout the year so do go along and give it a go, after all what do you get for free in St Andrews?
Although the University of St Andrews is sitting at the top of the Guardian Guide, do we sit at the top for our top sporting facilities? With no pool, no track? Possibly not.
Source: Saints Sports