ROCKETING living costs have left many students priced out of studying at Scotland’s oldest university, 15 years after Prince William began his studies at the Fife institution.
The price of a room in university-owned halls of residence at St Andrews University has rocketed threefold since 1998 – almost six times faster than inflation, while private landlords in the Fife town are charging students as much as £850 a month to live within the hallowed “three streets” around the university.
Students have warned that the ongoing “William effect” is pricing out those from more modest backgrounds. Many of them have resorted to moving further away from town to find affordable accommodation.
Average rents of £500-600 easily outstrip typical private rents at rival institutions of Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, which the universities estimate start at around £300; £200 and £280 respectively.
Compounding the student accommodation problem, in the years after the prince attended, the university sold off student accommodation in Hamilton Hall to an American developer. Other more affordable student accommodation options, including 1970s-built apartments Fife Park and David Russell Hall, have been knocked down to make room for “luxury” student flats.
Meanwhile, Fife Council, worried the Home of Golf has become nothing more than a student haven and tourist trap, has brought in new rules in an attempt to tempt young families back to the town centre.
Although the university – which has always had a reputation for attracting wealthy students – claims it is doing what it can to help those from more moderate backgrounds, it is failing to make progress, on paper, at least.
Official figures from 2000 – the year before Prince William arrived – showed that 59 per cent of students were state educated. Now, 58 per cent of admissions come from state schools – down from a high of 61 per cent in the 2004/5 academic year. Even Oxford University, the UK institution with the highest proportion of privately educated students, has shown signs of improvement, its proportion of state school students rising from just 50 per cent in 2000, to 56.3 per cent today.
But St Andrews officials claim that the number of state school students choosing to study at the university from elsewhere in the UK has declined partly due to the £9,000 a year fees charged to students in the rest of the UK.
Mike Johnson, director of Scottish and EU admissions and access at St Andrews, points out that a number of English state school pupils might opt to stay closer to home to keep down living costs. The fact that a three-year degree is cheaper than a four-year Scottish one might only reinforce that decision.
Yet, unlike many institutions, St Andrews firmly believes it should not distinguish between state and private school pupils when they apply – refusing , as many universities do, to set a quota for the state or the independent intake.
Instead, it uses “contextualised admissions”, considering not only the fee status of each student; but also their socio-economic background, whether the student is in care, a refugee, a mature student, or from a school with low progression to higher education.
Yet many of those who make the top grades necessary to win a place still inevitably come from private schools. Americans, a large proportion of them from heavily moneyed backgrounds, now make up around a quarter of the university’s 6,000-strong student body – up from just a couple of hundred in the late 1990s.
“I think our subject mixture is also very much linked to an independent school curriculum,” adds Johnson. “Subjects like economics and Latin are more likely to be taught at an independent school rather than a state school. It sort of matches a bit more.”
That isn’t to say that the university does nothing to attract students from underprivileged backgrounds. It works with pupils at local Fife schools, encouraging them to consider attending university. It also has an array of bursaries for students whose families earn below a certain level.
Most St Andrews students, even those struggling financially, believe it is worth it. The university regularly ranks top of students satisfaction surveys.
“I think St Andrews definitely gives you an advantage,” says one student. “It’s still the best decision I ever made.”