Hall costs can create ghettos

December 21, 2001

Universities committed to widening participation are facing another challenge once non-traditional recruits arrive - getting students from different backgrounds to mix.

Old-boy networks, historic architecture and differential rents can conspire to turn some halls of residence into public-school ghettos.

Students at the University of Bristol passed a motion on the subject at their annual general meeting. "Cultural barriers in halls of residence" says: "There is a disproportionate amount of students from the independent sector in some halls and state school students in others."

Belle Turner, president of Bristol students' union, said that when she arrived at the university, some halls were very public-school biased.

The situation had improved, she said. "Since the university has been running a widening participation programme, wardens have tried to get a wide range of students in each hall."

But being able to get a good mix depended on a mixture of people applying to each hall, she added.

A university spokesman said: "We take enormous pains to try to ensure that there is a good mix of students in halls of residence, because we firmly believe in the value of a diverse community."

Across the country, one factor standing in the way of cultural integration is the varying fees charged for different standards of accommodation. Many universities offer cheap rooms at about 60 per cent of the cost of the most expensive.

At Keele University, for example, an en suite room costs £2,590 a year, some £1,000 more than a room without a washbasin at £1,554.

At Leeds University, catered accommodation varies from £1,805 to £3,385 a year.

Nottingham University charges from £1,848 to £3,069 a year and Warwick freshers pay between £49.50 and £83 a week.

Ms Turner said she had concerns about the system. "I believe that it doesn't help things when you are trying to mix students," she said. "But it is not necessarily a solvable problem."

A spokesman for Keele said: "Requests for en suite accommodation come from a broad cross-section of the student population. There is no definite pattern: sometimes finalists choose the en suite rooms to give them extra comfort and privacy for study and are prepared to take on the extra cost: some are taken by international students. There is no obvious social distinction."

At Warwick, a spokesman said: "Our hall wardens are some of the most active staff in the United Kingdom. They select students, aiming for a balance based on subject, geographical area and interests. Social class doesn't come into it." He said en suite rooms were popular with students from all backgrounds.

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