By Sam McGuire
Member of EPRG Outreach
Researchers for the Economic Policy & Research Group (EPRG) recently published a report on affordable accommodation for students in St Andrews. The report found some startling results including that the average rent price for students in St Andrews was £542.57, for comparison London’s average student rent was found by other reports to be £584.32. St Andrews is also the University with the second lowest proportional intake of students from poorer backgrounds, with the Director of Residential and Business Services reportedly calling Albany Park, the cheapest halls in St Andrews, a ghetto.
The research was done by Joaquim Figueras, Lee Coulter, and Theo Kong.
(Left – Joaquim Figueras, Middle – Lee Coulter, Right – Theo Kong)
What did you find the most difficult part of the project?
Collection of information. Collecting responses from students as well as phoning up letting agencies in order to note raw data was time-consuming. However, despite the hard work, the analysis process was interesting. We also found it difficult getting the council to provide us with the necessary information to further our investigation. We put in a freedom of information request regarding housing prices but it never got answered.
Do you think that low-income students are being off-put from applying to St Andrew’s because of the price of accommodation or do you think other factors are at play here?
I believe it is a combination of factors. There are many variables at play here and when we weigh each one, it is highly subjective.
However one thing I am definitely sure about is that students, or prospective students, have been discouraged from applying here to the point that St Andrews is second to last in the equality indicators.Even if the University were to become more inclusive in their acceptances, students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds will find living here very difficult. With the rent cost coming out at an average of £542.57 we already are the third most expensive University to live in. Even if you have the grades, what is the point in applying? No student would seriously consider living in a tent for four years.
There are of course other factors such as social class division, albeit not discussed broadly, the lack of grand modern facilities and the lack of a diverse range of subjects (we do not have law or engineering). To address these issues is a separate matter to accommodation cost but they are certainly some of the factors that high-school students take into account when applying.
Your research focused on private accommodation, was there a reason for not looking at the University managed accommodation?
Very little research and surveying had been done on private accommodation in St Andrews. The information relating to university managed accommodation was readily available. Furthermore when the report was being written the University was in a transition period with the building of two new halls and the destruction and renovation of several others. This made it difficult to make any clear assessments of the situation in university managed accommodation as it was undergoing drastic changes.
However, in hindsight, our report will have more depth once student accommodation is taken into account and is certainly that must be considered should our report be extended and re-visited.
(Concept Image of Powell Hall, found here from the University Website)
Could your findings of St Andrews students being less price-sensitive be because of the higher socio-economic background of many students families?
Joaquim Figueras: The University has the second lowest intake of students from poorer backgrounds in the UK, with an estimated Gini inequality index of 0.44. Nevertheless, the student living index which is the relationship between average accommodation and living costs over the monthly income is the second highest in the country. It would seem unlikely that St Andrews students, when compared to similar income bracket peers, would have different utility preferentials. Rather the student living index is at its current point because no cheaper alternatives are being offered.
Theo Kong: There are many reasons why this could be the case. Without any empirical evidence, I do not wish to make assumptions. However, my hypothesis would be that yes, they are less price-sensitive because of their privileged socio-economic background. If money is a lesser concern for an individual, they would ‘care’ less for a given price/cost point. I think this is rather obvious.
Could building new student accommodation outside of town help reduce the inequality here and lower house prices for all?
An increase in the supply of accommodation will certainly impose deflationary pressures on housing prices. However, another key factor here would be to provide affordable accommodation that could compete with housing in town. We also need the University acceptance of applicants to be more inclusive and shift the ‘culture’ of St. Andrews, both of which are difficult and time-consuming to address.
What do you think the effect of demolishing Albany Park will have on the inequality of student intakes in St Andrews?
I do believe it is somewhat despicable. Although I do agree that Albany should be renewed there is nothing, in terms of cheap accommodation, being replaced! If you are going to knock it down, at least have a substitute in the meantime. This will merely compound an already severe problem.
(Albany Park pictured here was described by the Director of the University’s Residential and Business Services as a ghetto)
The full project can be found on the St Andrews Economist website.
Some responses have been edited for clarity.