Outside the sports centre are two premed students. They have come to the gym after a day of online lectures. When asked about membership costs, they look at one another before saying “We considered gyms in Dundee”.
Saints Sports, the brand that represents the University’s department for sport, has restructured its club membership. The new membership fees have faced criticism by returning students who have noticed an increase in the cost to join sports clubs.
Previously, social tennis and coaching cost £50.00 for the semester. Now, the same membership is £102.00. An increase in club memberships has been observed across clubs.
Jess Smith, the Athletic Union President explains in a statement for The Saint: “The University provides substantial financial support to Saints Sport, subsidising key operational costs”.
“From this grant Saints Sport seeks to subsidise each club as much as it can, however, funds are finite and will not cover all desired activity across all clubs.”
It is for this reason, Jess adds: “Membership income is therefore needed to cover the costs associated with running a club”.
Treasurer of the Karate club, Ajith Anand, told us that: “Our main costs served from membership go towards coaching fees, but they also assist us with licensing, equipment, clothing, and sometimes competition fees as well.”
He added: “The latter few items have not been covered in the past couple years due to Covid”.
The effects of Covid have been significant on students who have faced limited access to physical activity over the last year and a half.
The closure of parks and gyms during lockdown has not helped alleviate the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.
In the 2019/20 University Financial Statement, the economic effects of Covid includes “the loss of summer conferences, hotel accommodation and sports memberships to lockdown restrictions”. These financial losses echo the words of AU President Jess Smith on the importance of membership income when the University “funds are finite”.
Jess defends the decision to reform club membership. She adds: “Whilst the new combined memberships appear to be a significant upfront outlay, the overall cost of joining many of our clubs has not increased beyond last year’s prices, and in some cases these have reduced”.
The Saints Sport Student Membership which gives students access to the gym costs £200.00 for the academic year and has been available to buy from August 30th. This is intended for those who do not wish to join a sports club.
For those who do wish to join a sport, there are 51 clubs offering membership to students from Parkour to Polo. Students who also wish to access the gym can purchase the ‘Saints Fitness Bolt On’ for £85.00.
A student looking to join Boxing (£129.00) and use the gym (£85.00) will pay £215.00 for the academic year. Students who wish to join more than one club will be “eligible for a discounted membership” for each additional club as stated on the Saints Sports website. To avoid accidentally paying any repeat fees the website asks students to consult the sports centre reception.
Other UK universities offer students a range of membership ‘bundles’ at varying prices. The University of Edinburgh offers students ‘off peak hours’ gym access for £92.00. A discount ‘off-peak hours’ pass is not currently sold by Saint Sport.
Instead of an upfront fee, University of Dundee offers students a monthly subscription type membership. The university offers gym membership at £14.75 a month. The direct debit scheme also includes a onemonth cancellation policy for students.
St Andrews does not currently allow students to pay in instalments.
When I ask about uptake of the membership at the sports centre reception, it is unsurprising to hear that: “It’s been manic. It’s been really popular.”
It seems students are eager to return to sports facilities after a considerable period of disruption on physical activity and wellbeing.
Outside the sports centre, I let the two pre-med students go at last. Before they disappear through the centre doors, one calls back: “What other options do we have?”