Less student housing means less of a town versus gown problem. Right?
Cambridge’s student problem is a bit more unique
Student numbers in the UK in the last 15 years have increased rapidly. And since the introduction of bigger student fees, universities across the country have been in a race with one another to get 'more bums on seats'. It's meant that more towns and areas than ever are facing student related problems.
The biggest problem associated with 'studentification' is the student lets that dominate areas of certain cities. The noise and litter during term time, the abandonment in the holidays and overall bad maintenance of these properties seems to be cited as the biggest fuel for town v gown grievances. With towns and cities such as St Andrews, Manchester and Coventry putting in measures to try and reduce it.
This logic – that private student renting causes the most problems – should mean that Cambridge wouldn't have much of an issue to deal with. But this isn't exactly the case.
When looking at Cambridge, the accommodation of students is one of the smaller parts of our problem. But of course, just because we live in university maintained buildings does not mean all the classic problems of student housing aren't prevalent. Yes, the buildings aren't allowed to fall into the same amounts of disrepair and porters are more likely to put checks on parties. But anti-social noise and drugs problems will still have an effect.
In the bigger picture, the fact that the university owns so much of the centre of Cambridge pushes up property price excessively. This limits affordable housing stock considerably. To quote a friend of mine who is a student as well as a local, 'you know no one apart from us actually lives in central Cambridge?'
And this situation which leaves us in a university/high street shop owned bubble in the centre, is what causes our biggest town v gown issue. It's the fact that we're so removed from the local community. Sometimes, looking at Cambridge media and conversation, you'd forget that they were even there.
It came out early in the year that Cambridge has the largest wealth gap of any city in the UK. And I think it would have come to many students, including myself, as a surprise. Walking through the centre, we experience a town of Ted Baker shops, artisan cafes and beautiful ancient buildings. Chuck in some academics, tourists and well off shoppers and that's how Cambridge originally appears to a fresh faced undergraduate.
The city is more than this. It's got a much more diverse population who no doubt feel isolated by the wealthy atmosphere the university and its money creates.
This is made worse by the fact that students, and the university in general, can act like the city is ours. The way we can talk, you'd think no one but students could enjoy Van of Life cheesy chips. It's not a surprise there can be a sticky relationship between town and gown.
We don't particularly interact with Cambridge locals, and the one night out we generally share we've kindly named 'danger spoons.' And there must be something grating when we moan about tourists when our impact as students is arguably greater.
Private student accommodation is not a problem for Cambridge. But isolated university owned accommodation is. It's a large part of the bubble mentality and the inflated self importance the Cambridge experience can provide.
Generally, Cambridge students might not facilitate negligent private landlords. And therefore might not cause the recent phenomenon of 'studentification'. But we can hardly pat ourselves on the back. It's always important to be aware of the those that call this city their permanent home.
Because if anything, with short terms, we're some of the least permanent university cohort in the UK.