Accommodation Crisis at Stirling University

Going to University for the first time can be one of the most exciting events that a young person can experience. This excitement and anticipation can be doubled if going to University means moving away from home for the very first time and living without your parents, family and friends that you’ve had for most of your life. Living in new surroundings, which may as well be a world away from the familiar haunts of your hometown, is something that most people experience at some point. It’s something that makes you a more mature and well-rounded person.

In short, going to University literally changes your life.

However, that exciting experience can also be a terrifying one. Even if you don’t admit it, that car journey towards the place that is going to be the centre of the next 3 or 4 years of your life is one that makes your heart pound not only from anticipation, but also from fear. Fear that you won’t fit in or won’t be able to fend for yourself and that maybe you won’t find any new friends because you feel like you don’t actually belong in that University you have clearly earned your place at.

These are certainly fears that I felt when I first came to university 3 years ago but ones that disappeared as soon as I settled in, met friends that I now wouldn’t hesitate to call my family and became comfortable and happy being at the University of Stirling. A university that I love and constantly talk about but also a university that clearly has an ever-growing problem on its hands.

A crucial part of coming to University is having somewhere to live. A place where you can relax, spend time with friends in and do the basic things like shower, eat and sleep. Ensuring that your living arrangements are sorted is one of the first things prospective students do when they are heading off to University.

Sadly however, approximately 180 students set to be arriving at the University of Stirling in 2 weeks have discovered that their living arrangements are not sorted, with just a week until the beginning of the semester; having not been allocated the student accommodation they expected and therefore being left without a place to stay.

In spite of the University website stating in clear terms that they “prioritise all students in their first year of study for accommodation, as long as applications are received by the advertised date of April 1st”, dozens of new undergraduates received an email from Accommodation Services.

The email explains to the affected students that “unfortunately, due to a significantly increased demand for University accommodation this year, we are unable to offer you University accommodation. I realise this is not the outcome you were hoping for and am very sorry we do not have accommodation for you at this time. We wish to support you finding suitable alternative accommodation in any way we reasonably can.” It then goes on to provide a link to relevant estate agents and other possible places where accommodation can hopefully be found for the unfortunate students.

A note: the ‘advertised date’ of April 1st for supposedly guaranteed accommodation falls months before the release of A-Level and Scottish Highers results, meaning that many students will have only had conditional offers dependent on them. This would mean that they could not apply for accommodation yet as they were not yet certain of their place at the University of Stirling.

This denial of accommodation for many resulted in numerous complaints and panicked cries for help on the Official Stirling Freshers 2017 Facebook page with repeatedly liked posts from anxious students including ‘Meant to be my first year of Uni and it’s turned into an absolute shambles’, ‘Hey is there a group chat for willow cou…oh wait I forgot, there is no student accommodation left’ and ‘Worst possible way of starting UofS!!’

In an attempt to solve this problem for the 180 students, the University emailed returning undergraduates, who have already been allocated University accommodation, asking “if any student would like to be released from their university accommodation contract?”

The University also set up a dedicated Facebook page with membership limited to first-year undergraduate students, with links and updates to help students find accommodation and flatmates. Accommodation Services also continue to be available via phone for advice and assistance in helping to find new living arrangements as fast as possible.

However, this may well prove far more difficult than anticipated as evidenced by the fact the Stirling Digs website currently only has 11 different properties available for rental in the wider Stirling area with the first one being listed at £650 per person per month; far more than most University accommodation and un-affordable for the vast majority of students.

Stirling University’s student newspaper Brig has discovered that applications for University Accommodation rose by around 600, meaning that the number of accommodation applications was well over the number of student beds available.

Brig also found that 76 first year students, who had been denied accommodation on campus or within Stirling itself, have been offered accommodation in Glasgow city centre; a close walk to Queen Street Station which is where the majority of students will be travelling to Stirling from. Students have also been given a railcard which provides a third reduction of the price of increasingly expensive rail fares. While this goes someway to aiding students left without a place on campus, especially those under 18 who actually can’t rent privately due to the law, it still means many problems.

Although the efforts of Accommodation Services are certainly fantastic, and will hopefully help many, it still doesn’t fix the issues that will arise as a result of not liviving on campus or in Stirling itself. A third-off of students’ rail fares will still mean extra costs they will have to pay every single time they come to campus.

Factor in the time and stress of commuting to new students, as well as bus fares (that continue to increase) to easily get from Stirling to campus, and the previously exciting experience of University can rapidly become a nightmare. A nightmare that could easily cost much of a student’s already tight budget, as well as create unneeded stress that could detract from studying and daily life.

While many students may actually enjoy the experience of living in a fantastic city like Glasgow, they will also lose out on the ‘campus-life’ that is one of the crucial things that helps make the University of Stirling such a great place to study. I certainly would have seriously considered whether Stirling was the place for me if I had been unable to live on campus for my first year.

In my opinion, the only true way to fully solve the current problem is unfortunately unachievable in that it involves the impossible: Making the correct decision to build new, affordable accommodation as a priority. While I definitely recognise the probable need for an INTO building, and any upgrades to facilities, I also recognise that they mean nothing if students cannot use them. I’m certainly not aware or privy to the University’s budget and overall plans for development, expansion and improvement but I desperately hope that they involve some new housing on campus.

The University is going to continue dealing with this crisis until they do what is necessary and build more accommodation. Not accommodation like Beech, Willow and Juniper though, but accommodation that is affordable for all. The new Accommodation Enhancement Fund goes some way to dealing with the problem and should certainly be applauded, but it doesn’t go far enough in ensuring affordable living for all; the price of accommodation is being addressed but not the quantity.

When Geddes Court was demolished, it signified the end of affordable accommodation on campus, and the patch of grass where it once stood serves as a reminder of the issue that now faces the University.

I love attending the University of Stirling and believe that it is a phenomenal place to learn, socialise and grow as a person. I’ve certainly become a much better person over my time here and cannot wait to start my final year. However, unlike many students beginning their journey, I have somewhere to live. And I have no doubt that the great people at Accommodation Services, and the wider Student Union, will, over time, help fix this problem.

Sadly, there never should have been a problem in the first place.

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