SRC President Rinna Vare explains the student body’s campaign for the University to cap student numbers.
Let’s play a game. What do all the following experiences of Glasgow Uni students have in common? A series of unsuccessful flat applications? Lecture theatres without Wi-Fi? Cancelled society events? The same class in a different room every week? Being sent off to Stirling despite expecting the Glasgow student experience? You guessed it! The impact of unsustainable growth has been almost impossible to avoid and is at the heart of almost all of the issues current UofG students are encountering today, especially this year. From 2017 to 2022 the student headcount has increased by almost 40% and this has come with many consequences.
On Wednesday last week (16/11/2022) the SRC launched a ‘Cap Student Numbers Now’ campaign, demanding the University to make a public commitment to its students on zero-growth admissions target, to ensure that existing students are adequately supported. This crisis has not emerged out of the blue but has been a long time in the making. In fact, five years ago in 2017 the SRC sent a similar letter to the Principal, demanding the University to consider the impact of over-recruitment on the student experience. The same issue was also raised by the SRC President already in 2014 and has consistently remained on the SRC’s agenda over the last few years. Importantly, this issue is not unique to the SRC, its negative consequences experienced by both staff and students, with a significant number of staff continually raising this across the University and campus trade unions referencing increased workloads as one of the reasons their members have taken the difficult decision to strike.
The housing crisis in Glasgow was widely covered in the media earlier this year. Several factors have contributed to the situation that we are in, and it is evident there is no one villain that has led us here. Regardless of who we channel most of the blame towards, it is painfully clear that at the moment the city of Glasgow does not have the capacity to house the numbers of students that are being recruited. It would be simply unethical to keep recruiting students to Glasgow knowing that what is waiting for them on arrival is untenable living conditions, extortionate rents, or even homelessness. The housing crisis is not limited to students only but is experienced widely across the city. Refugees and people seeking asylum have been housed in hotels in dehumanising conditions, and more recently Ukrainian refugees have been placed on cruise ships. In addition, it has not gone unnoticed by other members of the community either, as prices have skyrocketed, and flats are gone before they even get listed.
To ensure we are not condemning future generations of students to the same challenges our community currently faces, the focus must be on long-term solutions that respond to the needs of both prospective and existing students. We will also need to recognise the changing needs of our student body. During the five-year period from 2017 to 2022 the most rapidly growing group of students has been international postgraduate taught students. Many of these students will need to rely on university provided accommodation or private student accommodation due to the enormous challenges they face when trying to secure accommodation through the private rental sector. As difficult as it is to secure housing while staying in Glasgow, trying to find somewhere to stay without connections in the city or the country is practically impossible.
It is important to highlight that this campaign is not about a sector-wide gap or intentionally limiting access to education, but rather it is about making sure that the University fulfils its promises to students. In fact, the impact of unmanageable growth often disproportionately affects students who are already disadvantaged. We’ve seen access courses created for students from widening participation backgrounds moved online due to capacity issues. Classes are moved at the last minute to spaces all across campus, and the wider city, making it especially difficult for disabled students to have equal access to in-person teaching. An extension to the working day has made it even more challenging for students with caring responsibilities, jobs, or long commutes to balance their studies with other aspects of their life and take full advantage of what student life could offer. As student representatives we have seen the detrimental impact of the commercial and growth focused mindset on the student experience and we cannot let that go ignored. It is heart-breaking to hear international students referring to themselves as ‘cash cows’ to the University, instead of feeling like valued members of a community they worked so hard to be part of.
Students should be able to trust the University to always have their best interest in mind, which is why we are asking the University to make a public commitment to its students. World changing starts at home, and without a public commitment to ensuring that UofG is a safe, supportive, and stable place to call home, we will continue to face the same crises. For the last seven years the SRC has raised this issue internally, but now we look to you, the students, to support us as we publicly ask the University to #CapStudentNumbersNow.