Students are being blamed for pushing locals out of university towns – but it's not their fault
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The small Scottish town of St Andrews is home to one of the UK’s oldest and most highly regarded universities. The University of St Andrews has grown very rapidly in recent years, witnessing a threefold expansion in student numbers between 2002 and 2017. Today, there are 9,000 full-time students matriculated in a town with a permanent population of 16,800. There is no doubt that St Andrews is undergoing a process of “studentification”.Studentification occurs when there’s a major influx of students into specific areas of cities, towns and neighbourhoods. At the crux of the phenomenon in the UK is a rise in the number of houses in multiple occupation, or HMO, where three or more unrelated tenants live together in the same residence. In recent years, this has become a topic of heated debate within local communities across the UK. There are competing views over whether greater numbers of student abodes – particularly off campus – triggers a process of urban renewal or sets in motion a process of deterioration and “urban blight”. Although studentification can be a good thing, the term is typically used in a negative sense, to denote a neighbourhood in decline. Local councils have sought extra powers to break up so-called “student ghettos” in cities such as Nottingham, Birmingham, Worcester, Durham and Leeds. So, we decided to investigate the effect it is having in our own town, St Andrews – affectionately known as the “bubble”, owing to its highly insular community.
Growing painsWe found a massive increase in the number of student-occupied HMOs across St Andrews. Over the last five years, the number of HMO licenses granted to private sector landlords has risen by one fifth again. There are now nearly 1,000 HMOs in the town. In some parts of St Andrews, estimates suggest that students make up between 80% and 85% of the population – especially in the centre, where they prefer to live. But since a partial ban on student dwellings was placed on the town’s central areas in 2011, more and more HMOs have spilled into neighbouring residential areas, causing even greater concern among local residents. Our study found that creeping studentification is having a significant, and in many cases, negative effect on key residential areas of the town’s housing market. There are fewer owner-occupied properties and fewer opportunities for university staff to live locally. There are also greater restrictions on affordable housing for local residents: the amount of socially rented accommodation within the town has halved over the last ten years, while the average house price in St Andrews is almost double the Scottish average.
Failing the community
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