Posted tagged ‘student accommodation’

The campus experience

April 5, 2010

When I was a student I became slightly acquainted with another student who was, as I might put it, slightly unusual. He was very respectable. I mean, he was 18 but he turned up every day wearing a tie, and trousers you wouldn’t want to touch in case the closely ironed crease cut your hand. His hair was neatly trimmed, his shoes polished so perfectly that you would be blinded by the sun’s reflection it you looked at them. When he was not at a lecture you would find him sitting somewhere with his flask of tea and his leather briefcase and his hardback notebook; unless it was after the last lecture, in which case you wouldn’t find him at all because he would have headed off for home, somewhere (if I recall correctly) in South Dublin. We became, as I said, slightly acquainted, because he was the brother of a girl I was ‘seeing’, as they say, for a short while.

One day I asked him whether he was had ever tried to get into college accommodation. He shuddered visibly at the thought – maybe not entirely unreasonably, if you take into account my own residential experiences. Anyway, his response was that he had everything he needed at his parents’ home, and the idea of leaving all that convenience behind in order to seek out a shared apartment with someone else who might have a doubtful hygiene record was simply bizarre. I had nowhere else to go with this conversation and so I dropped it, but I have often wondered whether at least some period in a campus residence should be seen as an important ingredient in the student experience. If you think of the university as a learning community, then you might expect that living together for some time might be helpful, or possibly even necessary.

These days more students than ever before can, in Ireland’s universities, live in on-campus accommodation. No doubt the quality varies, and maybe some will be run in a more congenial way than others; but the opportunity to experience this is there for all students at some point. Those who don’t live on the campus will either be at home (as my friend was), or in private rented accommodation; some of the latter will also have student community elements, on a larger or smaller scale.

Of course student numbers have grown so much that we have long passed the point at which we could even contemplate providing accommodation for all students, assuming that they would take it anyway. But in some universities elsewhere in the world this facility does exist. In some countries universities offer dormitory accommodation for every student, and may even require them to take it. In others there are universities that have sufficient residential facilities to allow a large proportion of students to stay there. Living in such accommodation does not just put students into a community occupying bedrooms and apartments, it keeps them on the campus in the evenings and allows them easier access to social activities there, and to the events put on by clubs and societies.

Of course as the demographic make-up of the student community changes, and as a larger proportion is made up of mature students, or those who juggle their studies with employment, the campus residential experience is not attractive to everyone. Furthermore, new learning methods may in future keep some students away from the campus altogether. This may require us to ask how important campus accommodation really now is, and whether it is becoming an old-fashioned idea that new learning methods and new forms of educational engagement make impractical. I don’t think that this is something we have considered enough, and we need to do so as part of our strategic planning for the future.

I recently came across my friend again. He came up to me and spoke to me in Dublin’s city centre; and it is as well that he did so, as I would never have recognised him. He was wearing jeans, and his slightly thinning hair was now long. Funnily enough, he was still carrying the same leather briefcase, but it was now battered and worn. He is involved, I understand, with the management of a performing arts group. As we chatted for a moment, he said in relation to his student days that his major regret was that he never managed to become a real member of the wider student body. And so, whatever significance we might attach to student accommodation, I still believe that those facilities that help to build up the community are of value. But we need to find out how we can maintain that in our changing university world.

Time to leave the campus?

January 30, 2010

Many many years ago, when I was a student in Dublin in the College-that-cannot-be-named, I spent a year living in university accommodation. I must confess that this was not a life of luxury. I shared what I suppose you might call an apartment with one other student: we had a living room and a kitchen, and each of us had a bedroom. When I moved in around early October it was all fine and dandy: the rooms were rather quaint and not unpleasant. The kitchen was horrible, mind you; big enough for only one person at a time, and with two gas rings that were not technological state of the art. I remember that you could not always reliably switch the gas off, which made it very interesting. The kitchen had this cooker and a basin dating from the late 19th century (or so it looked), but nothing else – no fridge, for example.

But what I didn’t know in October was that, for three months at least, a refrigerator would be totally unnecessary, because one of the other things this set of rooms didn’t have was heating. There was no central heating system, and moreover you were strictly forbidden to bring in any electric heater. Indeed that prohibition was quite unnecessary, as the electric sockets were old and the wiring tricky, and any attempt to plug in anything that used more electricity than you could get by rubbing your fingers caused all fuses to blow instantly.

The other thing you discovered quickly as the weather turned wintry was that the windows didn’t really fit into the frames, and I remember many a jolly night with a strong wind when you could have flown a flag inside with the windows closed.

And you might also have noticed that I didn’t mention any bathroom. That was because there wasn’t one. And I don’t just mean there wasn’t one in the apartment, there wasn’t one in the building. Actually, I think there was a toilet, shared by about seven apartments. But if you wanted to have a shower, you had to leave the building and go to the next one, where there was a shower unit just inside the front door. When I say ‘door’, I mean that loosely, since there wasn’t actually a door in the frame. So you stood in the shower, on a wooden slatted floor, just inside the open front door with only a shower curtain to protect you.

I suppose it is enjoyable to recall all this, living there engendered a real pioneering spirit, and in a way I pity all those students today living in the lap of luxury with en suite bathrooms and microwaves. What a boring life.

But maybe not so boring, because the University of Victoria in British Columbia in Canada has just had to go to court to try to evict a man, Alkis Gerd’son, who has been in residence on the campus in a student apartment for the past 19 years; which would be extraordinary enough anyway, but in addition Mr Gerd’son isn’t even doing a course at the university. He got in when he was a genuine student, but he just stayed when he finished his programme in 1997. And now that the university has decided it really is time for him to go, he is accusing them in court of discrimination. I guess the heating works well in his apartment.