Questions for St Andrews University


May I answer the charge made in your pages (“University hits back at ‘offensive’ claim”, September 7) by an unnamed spokesperson for the University of St. Andrews that I have “a well-known personal animus” against the University?

The spokesman offers no evidence for his or her claim which appears to have been prompted by my call to the University to honour its social and moral responsibilities to house its students.

There is, in fact, no evidence at all for the spokesperson’s charge. I yield to no one in my absolute respect for universities; I was the first person in my family to attend university, and in both literal and metaphorical senses, going to Oxford saved my life. I later lectured there as well as teaching for several years for its Department for External Studies, and I have spent my life around university towns and in academic circles.

Consequently, I am all the more disappointed that a spokesperson for such an august seat of learning as the University of St. Andrews stoops to scurrilous personal attacks when confronted with well-founded criticism.

The anonymous spokesperson says the claims I make about the University have been “consistently false” yet points to only two apparently factual errors. The first is my claim that the University currently has 10,330 students. That came from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) figures for 2016/17: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/whos-in-he. The University has countered with a figure of 9300, so I trust they are also correcting the data supplied by HESA.

The second error the University lambasts me for is for not knowing about its plans for growth, which have apparently been available online in their Strategic Plan for over three years. I can only apologise, but my genuine ignorance was shared by very many people in St Andrews as well Fife Councillors.

On the day the University’s attack on me was published, it held a briefing session at 24-hours notice for members of the North East Fife Area Committee, where its Factor and Quaestor Derek Watson kindly laid out the University’s strategic plan and took questions from the members who were able to make it.

The session was much appreciated, with the Convenor of the North East Fife Area Committee commenting that he had learnt more about the University in 20 minutes than he had in 20 years.

I hope this well overdue courtesy will now be extended to the townspeople of St Andrews – perhaps in some open meeting or a presentation at the St Andrews Community Council – so that they may be similarly enlightened.

It would be most welcome if the University could explain why it is promoting an increase in HMOs in St Andrews when there is currently spare capacity in both its own accommodation and in HMOs, it is building accommodation for 900 more students and it is capping expansion of student numbers at 10,000.

Part of the demand for HMOs stems from the fact that too much University accommodation is too expensive for students, or does not allow them to live with their friends. These are student demands the University should make more effort to meet.

Presumably the University understands – as some observers have failed to – that Fife Council only wants to stop further runaway growth in family homes turning into HMOs, not to close down any existing HMOs or prevent new purpose-built student accommodation. The desire to protect existing family homes in St Andrews has nothing to do with the Council failing to appreciate the benefits the University brings to the town and its surrounding areas.

Its impulse is a perfectly reasonable wish by the Council to exercise its legal powers to curb the buy-to-let bonanza which threatens the future sustainability of the entire community in St Andrews. Why does the University oppose that?

Yours etc

Linda Holt
Councillor for East Neuk & Landward
Dreel House
KY10 2RX

tel 01333 720378

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