I had a tour round the three year old campus of Queen Margaret’s University yesterday. It was impressive, but extremely compact for a university of 5,500 students. When I first went to Dundee, it had only 3,500 students and the University was vastly more extensive.
The Students Union in particular was completely inadequate – one very small bar and cafe, three pool tables. Students Unions are a vital part of the university experience, but evidently not at QM.
But what especially shocked me was the accommodation. Divided into (mostly) six bedroom flats, they rent out on forty week lets for over £100 per bedroom. But the rooms are absolutely tiny (more expensive premium ones are available). They do have en suite facilities of an extremely clever very very compact modular design like a Japanese pod hotel (and costing in bulk around £1,500 per unit, I would judge). But they are small. There is a shared kitchen, which is pleasant enough.
I paced the total flat area at around 80 square metres. That is an income of £3,000 per month on 80 square metres – absolutely colossal! Our rented flat in West Kensington was about 100 square metres and cost me £1500 per month, and our little house in Ealing was about 150 square metres and cost me £2000 per month. This is £3,000 on 80 square metres? In a field outside Musselburgh?
(The £3,000 comes from six rooms at a little over £100 per week per room. There are of course more than four weeks in the average month. The rooms are not empty outside the 40 weeks, but available for holiday let – at a still higher rate).
I was greatly puzzled by this until I saw stickers for Sanctuary Management Services. Dundee University’s PFI contract with Sanctuary was in part responsible for the major financial crisis at the University when I took over as Rector, which led to the administration forcing through departmental closures. The West Park PFI development contract was so structured that cost overruns (which were legion) fell on the University and not on Sanctuary. Getting information inside the contract from the administration was like drawing teeth, and the cv enhancing businessmen who dominated University Court were much more interested in covering up a blot on their and the University’s reputation than on digging into it. One thing is for sure – Sanctuary Management Services came out of it very well indeed.
Queen Margarets University has PFI written all over it, and doubtless the students will be paying those very high accommodation fees forever. This will bring a great deal of profit to Sanctuary Management Services Ltd. That transfer of money comes of course from the students themselves racking up vast amounts of debt that will blight their young adulthood.
If Sanctuary at Dundee University is anything to go by, the student experience on maintenance and management heavy-handedness will be less than fun, not to mention the private “security” roaming the place.
Sanctuary Management Services always impose excessive security, and the impact of this on the student experience also worries me. Every student room is, 24 hours a day, behind three locked doors. The front door of the block, the corridor or “flat” door, and their own room. That means for example that a first year student cannot access the room of anyone even in their own hall of residence to knock at the door, see if they are in and chat and have a cup of coffee.
This seems to me a completely unnecessary reinforcement of desocialisation. I recall fondly in my student days wandering the halls and dropping in on coffee – often a snowballing group of us, wandering round collecting up friends until settling down somewhere. It was almost impossible to be sat alone and lonesome, and as a depressive myself that was very important. Now the shy and depressed can stew behind those multiple locks with little chance of being rescued. It is, as I said, a desocialisation of the student experience, further exemplified by the near non-existent students union social facilities.
There has not in fact been a vast crime wave of theft and assault from students that makes Musselburgh in 2011 and infinitely more dangerous place than Dundee was in 1982. Those locks are not to protect students – they are to protect the property of Sanctuary Managment Services.
But this is all OK! Sanctuary Management Services Ltd is, after all, a charity, a subsidiary of a Housing Association! It is interesting that being a highly exploitative landlord to students counts as a charitable pursuit. While being a charity presumably means it does not pay a dividend to shareholders, I would nonetheless be fascinated to know more about the salaries, expenses, housing, company cars and other perks of those at the top of Sanctuary Managment Services Ltd and its parent Housing Association.