Fringe Box



Opinion: Guildford Should Cherish Its Students

Published on: 1 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 3 Jul, 2015

Town & Gown 2By Gordon Bridger

Hon Alderman and former Mayor

Are students a burden on Guildford residents simply occupying scarce housing while exempt from Council Tax or are they an asset bringing in wealth and youthful vibrancy to our town?

Simona Mariuata,  Chairman of the University of Surrey Students’ Union (June 26) has taken to task Guildford residents who appear to regard her fellow students as only an encumbrance.

Let me assure her, and indeed all other students, that this is not a widely held view and if it were it would quite inconsistent with a recent national survey which classified Guildford as having the second best educated population in the country, after Edinburgh.

Opinion Logo 2Unfortunately, until recently the university has failed to relate to the town as its withdrawal from the Guildford Institute  symbolised and it has refused to take the trouble to make known its  considerable achievements.

By isolating itself from the town it has created a public relations gap which it is only now seeking to remedy and students can and should play a valuable role in this respect. Its recent newsletter about university events, facilities and achievements is a belated step in the right direction.

There are some who largely blame, quite incorrectly, the undoubted housing crisis on increasing students needs and are highly critical of university development proposals.

While there is a reasonable case for arguing that the university should provide more on-site  student accommodation the housing crisis is a self created one; we have not built enough houses and the phenomenal prices are due to restrictions on land use.

It is puzzling that there is a vocal minority in such a highly educated population, who are anti-university and anti-development who do not seem to appreciate that the economic and social future of Guildford, and indeed Britain, is almost entirely dependent on having a highly skilled and educated population.

We need a population with the energy and enterprise to keep us competitive in a world peopled by others no less intelligent and a good deal more industrious. The IMF in a recent report on the British economy highlighted the  cost of housing as key factor endangering Britain’s international competitiveness.

Guildford’s economic success so far has depended on location, education and environment, but this is now being jeopardised as existing enterprises and educational institutions cannot attract the labour skills we need  because of scarce expensive housing and an inadequate  traffic system.

We are losing our competitive edge. We need to invest heavily in education, of all sorts, and in housing for a younger skilled population without which our economy, our welfare and  environment depends, will be threatened.

So let us welcome students, take advantage of the many facilities the university and other educational institutions offer and find a way of providing for a house programme fit for the future.

See also: Letter: The University Could Do More To Help With Guildford’s Housing Problem

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford Should Cherish Its Students

  1. Neville Bryan, Wood Street Village Reply

    July 1, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    There are two totally separate issues here and perhaps some credit should be given to the “educated” people of Guildford in understanding the differences.

    My first point is one the students living in Guildford. I do not think the majority or residents think students in manageable numbers are a bad thing. However, the town of Guildford has about 70,000 residents and about 11,500 full time students, with only 5,000 campus places.

    That’s nearly 1 in 6 town residents are students. In some Guildford wards 1 in 4 houses are student houses. That does not make for good communities, or good community relations.

    It is not the fault of the students. The university has not designed the promised campus communities for them in the same way universities it aspires to be like, such as Oxford or Cambridge, who have 80-85% on campus.

    Remembering my time as a student in Birmingham, most students will be intent on getting a good education and having a good time while doing it – all on a budget. Many will pick up life skills along the way which will serve both them and the country well in years to come.

    I do not think or expect student to have the town of Guildford itself as their first thought, and that I completely understand. All we ask as residents is respect for those who do live here.

    My second point is on the university itself, as represented by the university management. I am tired of the propaganda on how it is so good for the people Guildford. Most of the south of England is beset with developers because business are already here and overflowing form London; Guildford is no different.

    The university, instead of meeting its responsibilities as a semi-government body, and a major land owner, has continually shown contempt for the people of Guildford. It attempts to take advantage of the current change in legislation, its position, and an over friendly council, to maximise its real estate profit on Blackwell Farm.

    You only have to look at the list of 2003 promises not met, and the way it has cynically decided not to build most of the plan Manor Park student accommodation to start to see through the PR haze.

    Rather than build all it promised in 2003, it is maximising the revenue from student accommodation it already has, and driving students out into the town. The consequent effect on parts of Guildford, over occupied 30 weeks a year, and empty for the other 22 is devastating.

    The university is spending £47 million on a new 500 place, student vet school. Where are those 500 students going to live? The new school is located where some of the 2003 approved student accommodation should been. The university says it does not need the accommodation, while still owing 3000+ accommodation units from the same 2003 application.

    At the same time it is cutting course costs to save money and isn’t veterinary medicine one of the most expensive course to run?

    If the students want to get support from the residents perhaps some public and private attention could be paid by the Student Union representatives in persuading the university to meet its 2003 commitments regarding campus accommodation and campus life, rather than the misguided support for a new system of Guildford Council governance. I am pretty sure this would be a good step to start improving local relations.

  2. Mary Bedforth Reply

    July 1, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    24.4% of the Surrey students are listed as international on this chart and they are very welcome.

    Under new immigration rules introduced by Theresa May, the home secretary, hardly any of them will be allowed to remain in the UK and have to leave this country 7 days to 6 months after the completion of the course. See Tier 4 of the Points Based System
    Home Office Policy Guidance:

    Therefore this cohort will not be enhancing Guildford’s prosperity.

  3. Jenny Procter Reply

    July 4, 2015 at 7:25 am

    Gordon Bridger and Simona Mariuata are both confusing the issue. Quite simply, the ambitious strategic aim of the University of Surrey is to maximise profit on its real estate portfolio by any means. This,in turn, is forcing too many students to live within the community.

    The university, as Neville Bryan says, has not honoured promises to build accommodation at Manor Park which would considerably relieve the situation and free up a large amount of badly needed affordable housing in the town. It would also improve relationships with residents. Come on Simona Mariuata, why not tackle the university on this issue?

    How about going further and lobbying for forward legislation compelling the university and other bodies and institutions holding permissions to build, to complete those developments within a sensible finite period or lose the permission?

    Private planning permissions expire. Why should theirs remain open ad infinitum? If they did not it would kick start development and considerably reduce the need to seek out further development sites.

    Most students will be just passing through Guildford but one day you will be in a town somewhere looking for accommodation you can afford and may yourselves not be keen on student neighbours whose lifestyle and requirements are very different from yours.

    The Students Union does have a large and potentially powerful voice and could make a very positive difference both on campus and in the borough.

    Jenny Procter is a member of Save Send Action Group

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    July 6, 2015 at 8:14 am

    The University of Surrey is made up of more than just its students. The students can be thought of as its main customers and are obviously very important.

    The university is also a legal person just like a company and just like a company it has a strategy to increase its ‘value’. The students are no more responsible for the strategy of the university than the customers of Marks and Spencer are responsible if it decides to open new stores in France.

    Disagreement with elements of the university’s development strategy does not show any disrespect for the students.

    There are respectable reasons why the commercial interests of the university as a corporate body do not necessarily coincide with the town’s:

    Seeking to enlist the support of students or seeking to blame them politicises the subject and does not further rational debate.

  5. Gordon Bridger Reply

    July 7, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    While I appreciate that there are areas in which student behaviour needs needs to be rectified and that the university needs either to house more students on site, or explain why they cannot, it is Mr Paton’s comment that the university “commercial interests do not coincide with the town’s” which in my view is the most worrying misunderstanding.

    The university is not a commercial enterprise whose objective is to maximise profits for its owners. It is a public body with a national responsibility.

    If it makes profits these will be spent on better education. And the best, most successful universities in the world are rich ones.

    That very considerable profits can be made from change of use of land is correct, but if these profits are used for public benefit I do not see sound reasons for concern.

  6. James Sutton Reply

    July 8, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Why are you all assuming that every student wants to live in university accommodation?

    Students are entitled to live in private rented if they wish.

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Mr Bridger selectively quotes what I wrote to take issue. He omits the word “necessarily”. My complete sentence is uncontroversial and common sense. Selective quotation does little to further rational argument.

    Mr Bridger argues that it is acceptable to make lots of money “if these profits are used for the public benefit”.

    This statement is dangerously close to the logic that the means justify the ends. If some of the facts are inconvenient they can be ignored and if some of the rules are tiresome they can be excused if it is in the public benefit.

    Ms Juneja’s arguments to justify sending out an unsound Draft Local Plan were eerily similar. And she certainly did not let the facts or the law stop her doing what she wanted to do.

    To state that it is acceptable for the university to make a one-off development gain from changing the use of a centuries old farm “if it is the public interest” begs a lot of questions which Mr Bridger does not address.

    What is the evidence that the profits “will be spent on better education”? Will none of it go on higher salaries and better facilities for university employees? How does Mr Bridger define “higher” education?

    Why are the best universities also the richest, if that is the case? Is it because their alumni give the most generously? Or because their local authorities give them planning permissions?

    What is the public interest in this case? Why is Mr Bridger’s assessment of this (rather than anyone else’s) necessarily correct?

    The university is run to generate a surplus and to become less reliant on central government funding. It seeks to grow the number of its customers. Is this very different in practical terms from having a “commercial interest” in expansion?

    Is it not grossly overstating the case to say that the university has “a national responsibility”? There are 109 universities in the UK. Is the university in Guildford to be picked out for special expansion in pursuit of Mr Bridger’s assessment of the national interest?

    And of the 109 universities is the one in Guildford really the most appropriate for expansion?

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