It’s been a long time coming

So you’ve just been accepted to the delightful seaside university town of Aberystwyth, just you, the sea, the sun (okay…maybe not) and 8000 other students. It all sounds so good and to be fair it is but the first crisis of the new university term will be upon you before you even arrive. When I arrived at Aber in 2005 there were a wide range of options for Halls, from the seafront to PJM and even halls in Llanbadarn. During four years in Aber however things changed, big time. My first three were spent in the relative peace and quiet of student life, graduating eventually and spending far too much time working on this fine publication you see before you. The 4th year however was something a bit different, I had somehow managed to wind up as Guild President and this is when the learning curve really shot up. I would sit in a recruitment meeting hearing the various university staff talk about targets for student numbers but the real situation wasn’t immediately apparent. Student numbers in Aber have risen hugely in the last twenty years and the current intakes are the largest ever seen.

The problems started in 2006, the university had decided to close the halls on the Llanbadarn Campus, these halls are pretty much gone now, mostly knocked down. I had friends who stayed there and they had plenty of good tales about the friendly atmosphere and despite looking a bit faded on the outside the halls they said weren’t all that bad. The thing is, it didn’t stop there, the university has in the last twenty years gradually disposed of a large number of the former sea front residences as well. New accommodation has been built in the form of PJM, Trefloyne and Rosser but with student numbers rising was this really going to be enough? Fast forward to 2008, just elected as a sabbatical and polishing off my final edition of The Courier I had no idea what awaited students in the coming years. Freshers came and there were no major disasters but there were problems, international students arriving with no where to live and students forced to stay in temporary accommodation. We were told at the time that this was all temporary and that by Christmas it would all have settled down and so it did. Still there was a hint of problems to come, recruitment up, accommodation forgotten. The myth was that the private sector could expand to fill the gap left by higher recruitment and insufficient university accommodation.

Throughout my year we met on a regular basis with the staff of the accommodation office and were briefed on plans for further residences. The plans were grand and very impressive but in the short term the university still had to fit an increasing number of first students into the existing accommodation. Fast forward to September 2009, I’d left the Guild but new president Jon Antoniazzi was a friend so I was able to watch the problems of 2008 made to look like childs play. This wasn’t something new, I remember being told tales of students camped out in the sports hall while they waited for accommodation to become available. Surely a university that prided itself on it’s “excellent student experience” could never have treated students in such a way. And now we fast forward to today, it’s 2011 and three years after the I began to see what was really going students are once again getting messed around and the accommodation office is cashing in.

If there is one lesson to be learnt here it’s that the university never changes. Students are paying increasingly large amounts to attend university and increasing amounts for accommodation, in the end something will have to give. So next time there is “unexpected levels of recruitment” don’t be so surprised, we’ve been here before and sadly it looks like we’ll be there again.

 

Ben Hallett was editor of the Courier from 2007-2008 and President of the Guild from 2008-2009.