Business as usual, he's only a prince

July 20, 2001

These days, the University of St Andrews has to cope with an extended title, "where-Prince-William-will-study-art-history". It is also having to cope with intense and often inaccurate media coverage.

Principal Brian Lang, for example, has not decamped from his residence to allow the prince a secure building in which to live and study. Dr Lang, on his arrival last year, had already suggested freeing up the 42-room residence to re-house art history, now spread across four cottages.

St Andrews is not a campus university but has buildings scattered throughout the small town. Far from being kept behind walls, William will be taught in a range of venues as he will study another two subjects alongside art history as part of a broad-based four-year degree.

The university refuses to comment on security arrangements, and how it proposed to stop hacks infiltrating first-year lectures. Dr Lang said:

"Personal privacy is a matter for the whole university and the university has a responsibility to ensure that every member, staff or student, can study and live in St Andrews without inappropriate and unwarranted intrusion."

Any leaking of information will be "taken seriously", he warned. Student president Dana Green (St Andrews' most eligible bachelorette, according to the tabloids) sees no objection to students giving a personal opinion about the prince. But she said it would be "unethical and irresponsible" were they to divulge internal information, for example about course grades.

Ms Green's key election pledge was to uphold student privacy, and she aims to ensure that there will be a support network against media intrusion. "I want students to be educated about their rights and to be able to seek help if they feel under pressure," she said.

All students are likely to receive advice based on the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct on privacy, harassment and seeking redress. A photographer recently filmed some students in a cafe, falsely claiming Ms Green had given him permission. "They didn't realise I couldn't override personal objections," she said.

There have been rumours that student numbers are set to soar from the 6,000 to 10,000, with incoming battalions of female Americans. The university has seen a 44 per cent rise in home student applications, which Dr Lang ascribes to an increased appreciation of the high quality of what St Andrews has to offer.

The university expects an increase in numbers of only 8.5 per cent, an extra 500 students. However, the anticipated 8 per cent rise in home students breaches the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's edict to keep numbers steady. "We're in discussion with Shefc, bearing in mind that this is wonderful news for Scottish higher education," Dr Lang said. "It would not do Scottish higher education any good for this only to be punished."

Whether Shefc shares this view is debatable. Once it has received institutions' intake statistics, it will make decisions about penalties next February. There is no sign that it plans to relax its policy of refusing to fund anything beyond a 3 per cent overshoot.

Shefc's policy is that the institution must pay for any overshoot itself. If there is no dispensation, St Andrews will be grateful for the 12 per cent rise in overseas student fees (the largest groupings are in computing and economics rather than art history).

Dr Lang said the university would have to hire extra staff, and was facing extra pressure on its services. "A lot of additional income will go towards that," he said.

But Ms Green did not anticipate a boost in the students' association budget and said its officers would simply have to work harder. "Half of our remit is taking care of students' welfare, and first-year students tend to have more immediate crises than returning students," she said.

On the social side, more people will try to access events, raising concerns about crime and safety. But Ms Green hopes for an improved degree of self-discipline. Town-gown relations nose-dived last year with complaints of drunken rowdiness, and she believes this brought home to students that they must work to foster a good relationship with the townspeople.

The media are hyping the image of St Andrews as populated by English "hooray Henrys". Will the prince's arrival reinforce the perception of elitism and undermine attempts to widen access?

Dr Lang said St Andrews' access programme was well under way, with a summer school, part-time degree option and close links with the local further education colleges. "All of the public statements I've been making underline the university's long-standing commitment to social inclusivity," he said.

Ms Green said students take part in a mentoring scheme for local schools, and also carry out voluntary work in the community, promoting the university.

"I would be really disappointed if one of the effects of the situation we find ourselves in was that anyone changed their mind about coming here because they thought they weren't the right kind of person. St Andrews is not an elitist institution - it's a superb place to study," she said.

The university is keen to counter horror stories about soaring property prices and rents. Dr Lang said new entrants were guaranteed a place in hall, still among the cheapest in the country.

"Most of us pay £50 a week for our apartments," said Ms Green. "Although accommodation is pricey, it's not outrageous, and the university thankfully has very affordable accommodation. We have strongly lobbied them to keep it low because we believe it's an access issue."

This new session will be unlike any other, she admitted, but she believed the staff, students and community were pulling together to stand against any external pressures. "Everyone I know is nervous but dedicated to making it as normal a four years as possible for every student. We are not zoo animals. We are here to get an education."

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