350 students are without a home for the upcoming academic year, according to a survey carried out by the Campaign for Affordable Student Housing (CASH) in St Andrews.
An email from Juan Rodriguez, the Students Association President, assured students that the University is taking the issue seriously and working to find solutions.
In his email, Mr Rodriguez summarised the key problems. Such problems include the fact that the University is not aware of further space available in St Andrews to provide housing for students, and as university halls and university-managed properties are full. Private letting agencies have also reported that their properties are fully booked.
Beyond the University’s control, legal visa and migration restrictions mean that online learning for students without housing is not yet a viable alternative. Furthermore, private landlords have increasingly let their properties via the Air BnB markets instead of to students. This is due to changes to the law in Scotland which gave tenants more power.
On 4 August, the University sent an update to students unsuccessful in finding housing. The update said, ‘We sympathise greatly with the stress you have reported flat hunting in a housing environment that has this year become more highly pressured than ever. We are listening to you and working to find solutions.’
A proposed solution from the University includes accommodation in the Old Mill Student Residences. The University, according to their statement, have been working on this solution since last winter which aims to provide ‘additional, affordable, University-managed beds in a modern, purpose-built student residence’.
The update gave further details on the residence. ‘The rooms are located together in flat arrangements in dedicated St Andrews blocks, with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. Options range from one-person to six-person flats. The residence is a short walk from the main bus and rail stations in Dundee, and two minutes from the city centre with shops, restaurants, clubs, the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre and the Dundee Rep Theatre. St Andrews students living in Dundee will have access to Student Unions at the Universities of Dundee and Abertay, as well as access to the libraries of both universities via the SCONUL scheme.’
The rent for this housing would be £118 per person per week, including energy bills. There would be 24/7 on-call security, secure entry, bike storage, laundry facilities, social and games spaces, and free Wi-Fi.
In terms of transport, St Andrews students in Dundee will be reimbursed for the cost of a bus pass if ineligible for the Young Scotcard. The University will consider the possibility of running a dedicated night bus from central St Andrews to Dundee, six nights per week.
The Dundee residence will be supported by University staff, including a Residential Services Manager, Porter and House Services Assistant.
The update said, ‘The Halls Life team will oversee a range of social, community building and wellbeing activities, and the University and Students’ Association will invest in specific events and community initiatives in Dundee. In St Andrews, we provide dedicated spaces for our commuter students, including food preparation spaces and increased locker storage across the campus.’
Mr Rodriguez empathised with students who might not wish to live in Dundee but said in his email, ‘I ask that you strongly consider this option’.
The shortage of housing has a number of causes. These include the cap on the numbers of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) in St Andrews. This has led to private landlords limiting the number of bedrooms they rent in one house in order to avoid HMO licensing arrangements. As a result of this regulation, it is estimated that over 200 bedrooms are unoccupied in St Andrews.
As well as the HMO cap, the University had a higher intake of students in 2020 and 2021. This was due to higher A-level and Higher exam results by teacher-assessed grades, meaning that more students met their conditional offers.
In his email, Mr Rodriguez was frank about the situation. ‘While the University has continued, and will continue, to explore options for further student housing in St Andrews and other locations, I have to be completely honest with you by saying that finding options in St Andrews is highly unlikely and future alternatives might come from other areas in outwith the town. I really wish that we could house more students in St Andrews but the current situation in the town's housing market has tied hands this year. I will work extensively during my term so that next August, we do not find ourselves in this situation again’.
In their update, the University addressed the question of what further action it is taking to solve the crisis. ‘We are actively investigating further options for additional bed spaces in St Andrews and elsewhere, should they be required, working closely with the St Andrews Students’ Association; we are investing in our own developments of new University student accommodation in St Andrews to provide an additional 500 bed spaces; we continue to lobby for a review of the HMO cap; we are offering private landlords a property management service under which the University will let their properties to students and stand as guarantor; we are managing the number of students we admit to keep the St Andrews student population at approximately 10,000, the figure to which we have committed in our current University Strategy.’
CASH is working to create a public petition to the University and Fife Council regarding the crisis.
Image: Abigail Mason