Upon return to St Andrews, it is clear the University does not have students’ best interests at heart, despite it reaching top of The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide. From setting up virtue signalling schemes that do not benefit students to overcharging sports clubs, it is a wonder how the University achieves such high student satisfaction scores.
There are number of issues students have had with the University thus far this year. The Athletics Union has added at least £50 to the cost of club memberships. A competitive hockey membership, with includes access to the gym, now costs £355 for the year, far beyond what a regular student can afford. The University is known for being a hot-bed of the privileged and by pricing out so many students from sports club, they only exacerbate this problem of accessibility and diversity. The AU should be encouraging students to get more involved in sports – not less – as they provide rich social lives, aid mental and physical health, and are overall a fundamental part of student life.
Secondly, the University seems to believe it is logical to enforce mask-wearing whilst seated in the library, yet allow a mass stampede to occur outside the union because they did not install a sufficient queuing system. The Athletics Union had sold 1500 tickets for an event (less than the capacity of the building), so it knew exactly how many people would be attending. People were crushed together, attempting to get into the event. Many attained injuries and property was damaged. To add to this issue, the Union is now charging entry fees for the whole building. This includes the bar, which used to be the social hub of St Andrews and a place to get cheap drinks which is hard to find in St Andrews. This is clearly another way for the University to take as much money as they can from their students.
As well as pricing out its students, the University is failing to look after them as well. Sally Mapstone, The Principle, often cites the Can-Do Marquee as one of the top initiatives the University has done to improve students’ experiences during restrictions. It would have been more accurate to name it the Publicity Marquee, as the rooms were often left empty and frankly did not seem to be better ventilated than any normal room in a building. The money wasted on this would have been better spent on staff wages or accommodation. Last year some students were lodged in Dundee due to the lack of rooms in St Andrews. Not quite the experience they were after, I imagine, but at least they didn’t have to worry about commuting to in-person classes half an hour away. It was a less nice surprise for most others students who upon their return to St Andrews in September 2020 were told, contrary to what had been insinuated previously, that classes were to be conducted online.
Even now, I have approximately 2-4 hours of in-person teaching a week. It is unclear why schools can return to complete normality, yet University students – who pay for their education – cannot. When my cohort first arrived at St Andrews, staff refused to record lectures for us. They stated the reason why was to encourage students to attend in-person, as watching online was no substitute. Yet, now apparently it is, therefore students do not deserve a refund. It is perplexing that students can attend balls and go to the Union, crammed with thousands of strangers, yet cannot go to a lecture or take masks off in a class smaller than ten people. Meanwhile, in the main library many areas for working are blocked off, seriously limiting the amount of study spaces. One still has to book a seat and can only do so for up to 12 hours a week. The University has offered no logical reason for this, and it is deeply unfair for those who have less than ideal conditions to study in. Perhaps if the University started charging entry fees to lectures and the library it would make them more Covid-friendly.
Most students here love St Andrews, but because of the place and the people, not the University. The actual institution needs to prioritise students to keep it an affordable, top-quality, and a diverse place to study. Meanwhile, the University should publish a report eminently on the conduction of the student satisfaction surveys, due to the disparity between the survey results and the general atmosphere of dissatisfaction with the institution amongst students. The University must listen to its students and act accordingly.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the values of The Liberty Club