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Credit: Glasgow Guardian/ Madeline Baker

Rona MacNicol
Writer

Halls costs at Glasgow University price students out of social opportunities

Having twice been a fresher at the University of Glasgow, I have repeatedly found myself considering what type of accommodation can simultaneously provide me with maximum value for money and the potential to forge a new social network as I enter a somewhat scary and unknown realm.

As with many students, my inclination towards halls was born out of a fear that if I opted for private accommodation, or lived at home, I would feel ostracised from the university community and miss out on a fundamental undergraduate ritual. In retrospect, of course, this seems slightly over-dramatic; but for most seventeen and eighteen year-olds, with relatively limited experience outwith the social bubble of high school, the challenges of building a new life in a different city or country proves daunting.

Often, the plunge into the semi-real world is made slightly less nerve-wracking by the knowledge that you will spend the first year of your degree living with similarly terrified freshers. Bearing in mind the high demand for student housing at Glasgow, one might imagine that good, affordable living conditions await, ensuring that no student misses out on at least having the choice to participate in this crucial part of the university community.

Sadly, the reality of accommodation costs at Glasgow are bleak. It costs £115.57 per week for a single room in Murano Street – University of Glasgow’s largest, most popular and cheapest halls of residence on offer. This Maryhill residence costs £30 more per month than the average cost of a one bedroom, non city-centre apartment in Glasgow, which living cost comparison website Numbeo averages at £108.01 per week. For Scottish students, the non-income assessed loan is £450 per month, with the income assessed loan extending to £762.40 per month. That means that for those whose parents earn £34,000 per annum or above and do not receive parental contribution – as many students don’t – would be unable to cover the cost of Murano Street, whilst those on the maximum available loan would be left with £300 for food, phone bills and other living costs – which is feasible, but still tight.

A further issue with Murano is that despite paying above average cost for housing in the area, the quality is poor and furnishings outdated. In more luxury accommodation, such as the Queen Margaret Residences, students will pay £140.70 per week, £562.80 per month. Glasgow University therefore appears to be charging well over the average cost of accommodation relative to area, and not always providing value for money.

A major failing of Glasgow’s accommodation prices is the perpetuation of social exclusion. The cost of student accommodation at the University of Glasgow means that first year students who simply cannot pay the asking price are excluded from both an essential service and a social opportunity. They are priced-out of an important university experience which can often seem an integral part of integration, whereby new students can cement a feeling of belonging.

That is not to mention the number of students who will opt for Glasgow’s accommodation and push themselves into minimum wage employment – as often these jobs are all that’s available or students – which poses a threat to their studies along with their physical and mental wellbeing. It seems slightly hypocritical, considering that the university promotes equality (presumably including income equality) and equality of opportunity, that access to student housing is unequal and in many cases, income-dependent.

Whilst it is undoubtedly a challenge for any university to house so many students, it is certainly possible for the University of Glasgow to provide a fairer solution. And given that Glasgow was, last year, named the least affordable city for students, shouldn’t the university be doing more to mitigate the fallout for students?

The university could, if it so desired, act upon its imperfections in a number of ways: an income-based assessment for student accommodation, along with improving quality or subsidising those students less able to afford high prices are just some potential solutions which spring to mind. In the “real world”, lack of supply, poor quality and high prices all contribute to the apparent existence of a “housing crisis”; it remains to be seen whether the University of Glasgow’s current accommodation provision can claim that it is exempt from this label.