A glance at social inclusivity in St Andrews
Following my arrival at St Andrews, in between an induction to hall lunches and socially anxious garden parties, was an overwhelming amount of social advice. Older students were the first to list their favourite pubs and varying opinions on the Student Union on a Wednesday (but shockingly little about their academics, really). I was told there is little to do but pass wine around a dinner table, nightlife is nothing except bonfires and Aikman’s on a Friday, and that Sinners is an excuse for Thursday’s hangover and regrettable music choices in the union. It was easily apparent that there’s a large misunderstanding on what makes up St Andrews nightlife: and in that, how easily a student’s social choices craft their student experience.
‘Events’ seem a vital matter in St Andrews. There are no city club nights or trips to Wetherspoons; instead there are balls, fashion shows, and horse races. The events are overwhelmingly crafted by students, for students — frankly, few places would be able to justify a Great Gatsby club night or art-themed dance event other than a town full of academics.
It is impossible to discuss St Andrews’ social life without the obvious difference in prices for these events. Throughout the year, dozens of events are priced at upwards of £40 per ticket. If a student could afford it, they could go to a minimum of one a week. When considering the added cost of black-tie attire, alcohol, and transportation, a night out can cost an easy hundred pounds.
For most students, participation in these events — particularly at the frequency they are hosted — is not financially reasonable. Nationwide, 45 per cent of students have a part time job while in university, but, in St Andrews, job opportunities can easily be limited by the small size of the town. With rising costs for living expenses and the well-acknowledged housing crisis, there’s a diminishing amount of spare money for social events.
This raises the question of social inclusivity: if the majority of students struggle to pay for events, where are they going? St Andrews nightlife, even disregarding the price of event tickets, is nevertheless expensive: drinks cost parallel to global cities, and the cultural importance of the town means student staples are non-existent. Even the Student Union, marketed as affordable, has increased in price year-on-year. At £4 instead of £3 for a Friday night, the cost is hardly noticeable. But this year’s Freshers Week had tickets going for upwards of £7 for the night; first years are far less likely to have other venues in which to socialise or meet people. Freshers know little of what events they enjoy, yet are easiest to convince to go out: by charging nearly a tenner for union entry freshers may find their monthly budget dwindling before classes start, or priced out of the most affordable venue in the town. Other club nights, as seen on the overstimulating app which is Fixr, have increased 20-30% since last year.
The price of nightlife is hardly a dealbreaker to the student experience (if anything, maybe it will encourage students to have a night in). But the effects of nightlife on social connections, whether it is who you choose to meet or who you are able to, directly impacts how individuals look at their time in the university. If social life is then determined not only by our interests but our budgets, are we divided by class unnecessarily? Inasmuch as top universities are marketed for their diversity and life-lasting connections, a night scene so divided dampens our ability to meet those from other backgrounds.
The lack of social inclusivity in nightlife is only indicative of common themes throughout the town; as students age and move out of halls they begin to diverge into groups. In many other universities where there is a consistent idea of nightlife, with a less significant number of high-cost events, it is easier to tie up a year’s university experience. And it is futile to suggest ending high cost events: they are often not only fundraisers but illustrate the social interests of students. However, we should consider how a university culture which pushes high participation in these events affects whom we meet.