Fringe Box



Letter: The University’s Proposals Are About Money

Published on: 10 Jan, 2014
Updated on: 10 Jan, 2014

Town & GownFrom Robert Burch

It is good to hear the university enter the debate on accommodation and I welcome their desire to provide “clarification and correction”.

Mr Melly is unfortunately making the mistake of confusing demand and need when he discusses the new vet school: a similar error that the council has made in the overall housing debate, according the Guildford Society.

The need for new vet graduates in the UK is certainly not clear: the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has identified a potential shortfall in UK graduates in the future (this shortfall has been filled in the past by vets from abroad), but the British Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association both have major concerns about increasing graduate numbers.

In his figures on applications, Mr Melly is highlighting that there is very high demand for the course at Surrey University, which is a different matter entirely.  I am sure that demand is high because Surrey will host the only vet school in the South East of the country and that the University of Surrey is a desirable place to study.

The same issue occurs in housing. There is very high demand in Guildford, but the genuine need for housing is not clear and has yet to be formally stated by the council.

It is good to hear that the university will “bring forward the next phase of residences”, but we must remember that residence building remains at least five years behind the original expectations set by the University in 2003.

Using their figures, the university has expanded from about 9,000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) students in 2003 to over 13,500 now, but the proportion of students accommodated in residences has remained static at about 37% of FTE, way below the 60% target the university set for itself.

If the university continues to expand student numbers, despite new residences being built, more students will need to find accommodation in areas that could otherwise be used for families and other permanent residents, especially those who need affordable housing.

I am also very sceptical about the Mr Melly’s dressing up of the university’s proposed development in the green belt, immediately north of the Hog’s Back, as an altruistic effort to help improve affordability of housing in Guildford for the benefit of its staff and other borough residents.

This proposed development is about money. It is a way for the university to secure its future financial position in the face of a changing landscape of higher education funding.  The university should be prepared to state this clearly, together with what will happen to university finances if this development is not granted.  There are other universities facing the same challenges, but who do not have a land bank to fall back on and they will find ways to adapt.

If, as Mr Melly suggests, its staff face the challenge that “for many, Guildford house prices are out of reach”, then the university should consider providing additional staff accommodation on the existing campuses. It has land for this and the existing master plans allow for it.  Due to the very high demand in Guildford, house prices will not fall with new build: housing developers are very careful about the rate at which they build on a new development precisely to avoid disrupting the local market so that prices and profits fall.

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