At home with the Young Ones

July 23, 1999

In the third of our articles on student life, undergraduates give their views on accommodation - from the splendid to the squalid. Alan Thomson reports on the state of student digs

For graduates of a certain age, student digs were caricatured most effectively in the 1980s sitcom The Young Ones. Our survey of today's undergraduates both dispels and reinforces that hellish vision.

Most of our respondents were in halls of residence and many had grumbles about the standard of accommodation and value for money they represented. Those renting privately generally held more mixed opinions of the standard of accommodation.

Students at Plymouth University complained the most about their university accommodation, although much seemed to depend on which halls they were in. They had mixed views about the privately rented accommodation in the city.

Joanne, media lab arts, said that private accommodation close to the main campus could be cheap but nasty. Speaking of her place, she said: "It's Pounds 39 a week and riddled with damp. You can run your finger along the wall and you've got water dripping off your finger.

"I've got a really good house for next year but it's further away. It's a 20-minute walk. If you want good quality accommodation, you've got to live further out from university. A lot of places round here are ****."

Fiona, foundation engineering, had been luckier. She said: "Better accommodation is found in newsagent windows and privately. It's cheaper. I found my house advertised in a newsagent at Pounds 37 a week and I'm really happy with it, whereas halls are tiny and you pay a lot."

Halls were fine for Sara, studying human biology. She paid Pounds 40 a week, which included a cleaner. From this, the rest of the group guessed immediately that she had stayed in the Robbins Halls, which are modern, well-

appointed and next to the campus. One student thought that Robbins was full of overseas students and women.

Andy, underwater science, said: "I've got a room in Gilwell and you put a dividing wall down the middle of this office (which at approximately 10x8 feet meant he must have been living in a corridor) and you'd get two rooms. I get my bed, wardrobe and computer desk into that and I've probably got three feet left down the middle. I don't even use the kitchen. I like to be able to use the kitchen and not clean it first."

Things are quite different for Cambridge undergraduates. Most live in rooms within the protective walls of the historic colleges. Some undergraduates attend wealthy colleges where they can "live in" for a full three years. Others at poorer colleges may have only one or two years inside before being offered accommodation outside, usually still in college-owned properties.

An added bonus of attending a wealthy college is that rooms are often cheaper because the colleges need the income less. Maggie, reading languages at Trinity (described by the respondents as a rich college), paid Pounds 360 a term for a new room with ensuite power shower. Jane, social and political sciences, New Hall ("poor"), paid Pounds 700 a term exclusive of food.

Facilities vary. Students told how at Pembroke ("medium-poor") new accommodation blocks sit close to older ones with "two showers for 20 people". In New Hall some students have to put up with "dodgy heating" and no carpets. Next year Maggie will have to cross the courtyard to shower.

Still, Trinity must have one of the smartest student bars in the land, having been refitted "Conran-style" (some moaned that they were no longer allowed to put their feet on the seats), and Jesus undergraduates can decorate their walls with original paintings and sketches rented from the student union for a Pounds 10 deposit.

No such perks at Cardiff University, but it seems that undergraduates there can count on good quality, value-for-money halls. All of the respondents were satisfied with the standards of the halls, which cost on average about Pounds 40 a week. Even the privately rented flats were felt to be good value with plenty of choice. They had far fewer complaints than the students at Plymouth.

Doug, communications studies, had an en suite room and a pub nearby. He said:

"There's six of us and a big kitchen with enough to go round for self catering. There's also an on-campus bar."

Areej, banking and finance, complained about the rules and regulations in his halls. He said: "I feel like I'm being bossed around. I have posters in my room and every time they come for a room check I have to take them down before they come as you're not really supposed to have them - or candles as they're a fire hazard."

All of the undergraduates interviewed at Goldsmiths College in London lived in halls and all paid in the region of Pounds 60 a week. This was more than many halls outside the capital but far less than the cost would be if it accurately reflected the London property market. The group thought the cost was reasonable since it included utility bills. Pete, a history student, mentioned rats in the forecourt of his halls. But then rats are common in the capital.

While London is peculiar because it is the capital, Glasgow is odd in that many young people go to the local universities, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian and Paisley. As a result many continue to live at home, sacrificing independence to save money. Our group from Strathclyde University confirmed the pattern. It also emerged that Glasgow has the closest thing to a student ghetto in that the West End, where Glasgow University is based, is heavily colonised by students, many in privately rented flats.

Vivienne, studying bioscience, lived at home but had a number of friends with "quite nice places". Susan, politics, also lived at home. Carl, English, lived in halls in the West End, which is miles from Strathclyde's city-centre campus. He said: "It can be difficult because I can't afford the tube every day. It's quite a walk - around 30 to 45 minutes." Carl thought the standard of the halls was fine for the money.

Sharee, law, said: "I mean the halls are OK, but you get what you pay for, from Pounds 35 a week to Pounds 65. That's pretty good though, but you really do get what you pay for. I mean, I'm paying Pounds 170 a month where I am at the moment, which is all right."

Jennifer was fortunate because she arrived at Strathclyde with a group of friends and together they rented a flat privately which they found through the university's accommodation office. She thought there was little difference between the cost of renting privately and paying hall fees.

One of the more unusual accommodation situations came to light in the interview with the student group from Lancaster. The campus was built in the 1960s on a green-field site and was designed to be a self-contained and integrated whole. Student halls, lecture halls and tutorial rooms are found in the same complex. There are also shops on campus.

The group thought the accommodation varied considerably but the saving grace was that it was very cheap. They thought this even though the prices were not too dissimilar from many halls elsewhere, being between Pounds 39 to Pounds 55 a week.

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