Credit: University of Glasgow

The random lottery of student accommodation does nothing to ease the transition to university


Jennifer Bowey

Starting university is undoubtedly one of the most exhilarating yet daunting experiences in a young person’s life. Moving into student halls, however, is perhaps even more immediately consequential. When you pack up all your belongings and travel to a different city, move into your new flat and meet the people you’ll be spending the following year living with, you truly are taking a step into the unknown. Some people make lifelong friendships in student halls: others learn to simply tolerate each other until the year is out. At Glasgow University this experience is, unfortunately, completely unregulated. How do accommodation services decide who you will be spending your first year living in a new city with? Essentially, they leave it up to chance.

When choosing which student halls you want to stay in at Glasgow University you are asked to list the accommodation options in order of your preference. After that, your living situation is completely out of your control. You will eventually be contacted and told which accommodation you have been placed in and as for specific flats and flatmates? You will find out on move in day.

This process, although perhaps sufficient to the University, just seems lazy and inefficient to the students who have to live with the consequences of these decision for an entire year, and it seems all the more feeble when compared to the processes other universities adopt. Having spoken to students at Strathclyde University, I discovered that when applying for student accommodation they were required to take a series of personality questionnaires. In these questionnaires they were asked questions about their interests and personality traits, for example, whether they are a morning or a night person. The result of this more rigorous sorting process is a far higher chance of matching compatible flatmates than simply placing them together at random.

One of the situations in which this lack of organisation and regulation becomes apparent is when students from very different class backgrounds and upbringings are placed together, as was the case in my own experience. Two upper-middle class students were placed in a flat with myself and another student, who are both of a working class background – we were utterly incompatible, and our vastly differing backgrounds exacerbated this within the close confines of a student flat. The resulting conflicts over political differences and general ways of life left the flat almost unbearable to live in by the end of the year, and in fact, the two of us from a working class background eventually ended up moving out (however it should be noted that this was for a combination of reasons). It is situations like this that could potentially be avoided with the use of basic personality questionnaires when sorting students into flats.

In terms of socialising, joining clubs and societies and taking part in union events have become such an integral part of university life that this is widely encouraged by the University itself. Surely then, it is also the job of the University to concern itself with the comfort and happiness of the students it is housing. When bringing together a diverse range of people from different countries and socioeconomic backgrounds, it is of great importance that everyone must make an effort to learn about one another. With the aid of a procedure that could help match likeminded people, regardless of their background, this process could be made easier and more enjoyable for all students.

The Russell Group, which has in the past been synonymous with ‘elitism’, champion the use of widening participation programmes aimed at students from more diverse backgrounds. As a member of this group, Glasgow University has a duty to help to integrate students who are not from a British, middle class background into the wider university community. Starting university and moving to a new city is intimidating enough without facing the difficult predicament of being placed in a living situation with people who you simply do not get on with. Having taken part in one of the widening participation programmes that Glasgow University runs, I was initially thrilled by the University’s efforts to increase diversity in its student population. Unfortunately, upon moving into my flat and witnessing first-hand how alienating a living situation can become, I profess myself somewhat disappointed by Glasgow University’s efforts.

Personality questionnaires when sorting students into flats is just one method of increasing the likelihood that all students will have the opportunity to meet people that they can potentially form lasting friendships with. Instead of subjecting students to the results of an arbitrary lottery that often shapes and defines your first year, the student halls experience could be made more pleasant for everyone.


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