Report highlights sweet side of student invasion

January 27, 2006

Residents often dread signs of students moving into their neighbourhood, fearful of the prospect of late-night partying, streets jammed with cars and pavements strewn with litter, writes Olga Wojtas.

But a report published this week by Universities UK flags up the benefits of student neighbours, who often work as volunteers in the community, support local businesses and can be the catalyst for improved transport services and urban regeneration. And it points out that graduates and students are the least likely in society to commit a crime.

UUK wants universities, local authorities and communities to get together to tackle problems caused by "studentification" - concentration of students in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

Drummond Bone, UUK president, said: "I think goodwill on both sides and open lines of communication can do a lot to ease these difficulties."

The report, by Darren Smith of Brighton University, supported by Jane Denholm, director of the policy consultancy Critical Thinking, reveals that two thirds of higher education institutions have been approached by communities concerned about the impact of students in their area.

The report warns: "The evidence suggests that if HEIs do not act, it can cause and entrench resentment in the local community."

But it adds that communities in Brighton, Manchester and Salford absorbed growing numbers of students with little complaint.

The report highlights a range of innovative solutions. Loughborough University's students' union gives lollipops to students as they leave, to keep them quiet. Manchester University's student union launched a "can you spot a student house?" anti-crime campaign, featuring images of an untidy property with festering rubbish bags.

The National HMO Lobby welcomed the report. But Richard Tyler, its co-ordinator, added that it failed to address the role of the Government, which generated the problem by expanding higher education without providing for student accommodation.

According to the latest Unite Student Experience Report, published this week, students are aware of their failings, with 54 per cent saying they thought the biggest problem associated with student areas was noise.

But the survey by Unite, a provider of custom-built student accommodation, also found that 38 per cent of student respondents thought their money was important in sustaining local businesses, and 32 per cent said they brought life to the area.

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