The climate emergency is exacerbated by the University’s failure to provide enough housing to prevent unnecessary commuting
For many, the housing crisis remains too large a part of the UofG student experience. An oversubscription of students, and a shortage of purpose-built student accommodation, has created a deluge of homeless and commuting students. Aside from the obvious impacts on the mental health and academic record of students left without somewhere to live, the accommodation crisis in Glasgow also has a devastating impact on the environment.
A homelessness crisis is at the heart of Glasgow’s history.It is not a phenomenon unique to this century, or a problem faced only by students. However, the student accommodation crisis is worsened by poor planning by the University and a lack of controls on student numbers. Considerable efforts have been made this year to mitigate the crisis, so fewer students are facing the possibility of being homeless than at the start of last semester. The University has bought over 615 new bedspaces – although 425 of these are three miles away from campus. In January of this year, the University pledged to target zero growth in student intake numbers for 2023/24 and adopt a “managed growth admissions policy” for 2025, in response to the SRC’s “Cap Student Numbers Now!” campaign. Overall, then, the problem is far from solved – The Tab reported that in July, a fifth of students had not yet secured accommodation for this year.
Living further and further away from campus – and therefore commuting into university every day – is increasingly normal across the UK, but Glasgow is one of the worst cities to find a place to live as a student. The BBC recently stated that Glasgow was one of the toughest cities for students looking to secure accommodation – along with Durham, Bristol and Manchester. Martin Blakey, chief executive of Unipol – a student housing charity – told the BBC: “In those cities where you’ve got a serious problem, the idea you will be able to afford to live close to campus is for the birds.”
Many students are now – as a result of the housing crisis – forced to live at home and commute to university, sometimes from nonsensical distances, such as Edinburgh, Perthshire or Ayrshire. It is no secret that driving has a detrimental effect on the planet, and commuting to the University from miles away by car only adds to the city’s already high pollution levels. While the new Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in parts of Glasgow provides financial incentives for people to drive less, these efforts are undermined by the lack of accommodation. Commuting students may be hit with heavy fines or even the cost of buying a new car due to the LEZ legislation, punishing them for something completely beyond their control.
What about alternatives to driving? Well, existing commuting options within and around Glasgow are shameful for the largest city in Scotland. While Glasgow’s night buses have been reintroduced after public outcry, the subway still shuts just after 11pm, and at 6pm on a Sunday. Despite recently hosting the Union Cycliste Internationale, cycling infrastructure is weak and cycling is therefore not a real option unless you are incredibly brave and willing to cycle on dangerous roads for large parts of your commute. Despite many bus routes now using electric vehicles, they are notoriously unreliable and often simply do not turn up. The Scotrail services are possibly even worse. The flaws in Glasgow’s public transport system leave those commuting to the West End from within and around Glasgow with no choice but to drive, causing more and more destruction to the environment.
Investing money and resources into expanding and improving Glasgow’s public transport system would have a favourable impact on the environment, as well as helping students and others living in and around Glasgow to travel with less stress, and less of a carbon footprint. Creating a more environmentally conscious Glasgow should be a priority for the Scottish Government.
Closer to home, the most obvious step in creating a healthier environment for UofG is ensuring that there is enough accommodation – by building more bed spaces and capping student numbers further. Out of the six British cities worst affected by accommodation shortages last year, Glasgow is one of only two which has not created any new bedspaces. In comparison, Manchester managed to find 457 additional bedspaces.
Students in Glasgow and the rest of the UK have been failed – again. Poor planning and an oversubscription of students has led to huge numbers of homeless and commuting students. Universities ought to have a duty of care to at least provide a basic roof over the heads of their students. But this oversight and lack of care from the University is also causing great harm to the environment. Unless solutions are implemented quickly, it will be felt for generations to come.