Over the last few years, St Andrews has faced a housing crisis as the demand for properties has outsized supply. The University's solution for many students has been to send them to neighbouring Dundee, where they have managed to scrape together some accommodation for the overflowing students.
As of August 2022, CASH St Andrews reported that almost 400 students had contacted them to say that they did not have accommodation for the upcoming academic term. Many students in this situation have had no other option but to commute into town each day. To gather some insight into life for St Andrews students who have had to live outside of St Andrews, I spoke to third-year Josh Rankin, who has been living in Dundee this past academic year.
Failing to secure accommodation for his penultimate year after living in halls for the previous two, Rankin and his friends turned to Dundee. Although they have a generally positive mindset about living out of town, Rankin admits that commuting every day is not ideal. “It is a bit difficult trying to commute,” he said, “Obviously buses are not always on time. It also kind of limits how long you can stay in the library.”
The library, of course, is not the only priority of students at this university and living out of town makes it much harder to appreciate the nightlife on offer. Although Rankin said that the connections he has made thus far allow him to crash on the sofa at a friend's house on a night out, there are times when Rankin has no choice but to get the bus back. He’ll usually get the 2am bus, getting into Dundee around half past, with an additional 20 to 30-minute walk to his flat, located frustratingly up a steep hill.
“That distance is a huge inconvenience”, Rankin said. Especially in a community where many students live only a few minutes from the Union or town, allowing them to conveniently cash in without much planning. Rankin, however, admits he feels privileged as a third year student who has made connections, which allows him to stay at a friend’s flat at all. The story is imaginably different for first years living in Dundee.
“I’ve talked to a few first years who feel a bit disconnected, because this town is so small. If you are here, you can message people and ask if they want to go to karaoke night, for example,” he said. “The students in Dundee have got to know each other quite well, but when it comes to actually hanging out in St Andrews, the connection is not there as much.”
As we enter the second semester, many students are thinking about securing accommodation for next year. From my experience with the housing market in St Andrews, a lot of leases are drawn up through nepotism. Know someone in an older year through sport? Friends of friends are prepared to do a flat swap with you? Parents own properties in St Andrews? Once a student finally signs a lease in town, chances are they won’t be living in Dundee for the rest of their university experience. What about these first years in Dundee, unable to make these connections so easily?
Speaking of privilege, St Andrews is rife with it. Whether it's invite only events or secret societies, the exclusivity of the town only heightens with the inequality within the housing market. Dundee accommodation is significantly cheaper than St Andrews, meaning students from less wealthy backgrounds may be more likely to accept the University's offer to give up their hall's place.
I asked Rankin if, had he known before that he would not be living in town for all four years of his degree, his decision to come to St Andrews would be impacted at all.
“When I was looking at St Andrews, and how much the accommodation cost, and comparing it to Dundee, I had been prepared to live in Dundee from the start,” he said. “I was lucky to get an external scholarship, and help from the disability team as well.”
Rankin is hoping to live in St Andrews for his last year, but he said that he is open to Dundee again if plans are to fall through. He said that the house search in town is frustrating because there are often wealthy students willing to pay extortionate prices that he can’t even begin to match, and which drive up the market. It is not surprising that some flats go upwards of a grand per person in town – a price range far beyond the budget of many students. Rankin remarks that he’s come across a lot of people who have regarded accommodation in that price bracket as very reasonable, which he said exemplifies how those from wealthier backgrounds are far less affected by the housing crisis.
“It’s just a thing that’s happening in a lot of universities in the UK right now, it's pronounced in St Andrews because it’s a small town,” he said. “I have friends in Glasgow that have suffered too, and houses in Edinburgh are skyrocketing too.”
While it has been especially pronounced in St Andrews, the housing crisis is spreading around the UK as more students find themselves unable to find and afford homes close to their universities.
Rankin, however, notes that there can be some silver linings to living outside of town. He even acknowledges that it sometimes can be nice to get a bit of space and separation after being able to live in town for his first two years.
Although it is understandably a challenge for the University to find more accommodation in such a small, old town, Rankin points out that the existing options should be at least a bit cheaper. Whilst acknowledging that the University does give out bursaries – or scholarships – he states that it is a bit of a ‘cross purpose,’ because the students it pays to educate cannot afford to find housing.“The University is effectively paying itself, when it could just make it lower in the first place,” he said.
Unfortunately, students can only expect the opposite of cheaper accommodation in the near future. Many students are facing rent increases for the next year in their current flats, and the University has stated via the accommodation website that Halls of residence costs will be increased by 8.3 per cent on average for the academic year 2023/23. Only time will tell how much this will affect students next term, but there is almost no doubt that the number of St Andrews students living in Dundee will rise.
As our discussion came to an end, I asked Rankin what help the University had provided to students that are living in Dundee. Rankin responded that the University has struck a deal with Stagecoach, where staff and students can get 75 per cent off in fares. Any person living in Scotland under 22 has free bus travel with the Young Scot card anyway, so although this helps older students and staff, it in no way benefits the younger, more vulnerable students that have been obstructed from living in town.
Although Rankin sees his situation with an optimistic attitude, there is no denying he would rather be in town than Dundee. St Andrews students are missing out on getting to know the town properly, social connections, study time in the library and much more. Since Covid has exited the centrefold of university life, these are the things that students should be able to appreciate and take advantage of more than ever. Not only has living in Dundee negatively impacted the University experience of St Andrews students, it has disproportionately affected those from less privileged backgrounds.
Image: Alistair Hamilton