Is university life preventing students from considering lives and perspectives of those outside the student ‘bubble’? Laurie Presswood investigates.
The most recent census of 2011 revealed that full-time students make up more than 12% of Edinburgh’s population. With four different universities hosting almost 40,000 young adults, the city is a student hub – few would dispute the fact that Edinburgh is a fantastic place to spend your university years. But living as we do in this university-dominated environment may cause us to run the risk of neglecting the outside world. University life can be so time-consuming that it often feels like we don’t have the time to keep in touch with things happening beyond studying, (maybe), socialising in student haunts where food and drink are cheap, and the goings on of our student flats.
The areas surrounding Edinburgh University are densely populated by student residences, with locations such as Marchmont and Bruntsfield made up of more than 50% students. However, for those not attending university, the high concentration of students is not always welcome. For ten years I lived in a house across the road from a large block of university halls and would regularly be woken in the night by fire alarms and screaming drunkards. One of our neighbours had a garden bench stolen from their front garden, only to find it weeks later in the middle of the student complex. During those years I regularly cursed the seemingly inconsiderate students who kept me up at night. But when I came to university I found myself in the reversed position – my halls looked out onto a block of flats whose residents brought the council close to revoking the university’s HMO license for the site as a result of frequent noise complaints brought about by late-night parties. The bubble of student life means that it can be all-too easy to forget about the people living round about, whose problems extend beyond the struggle of waking up in time for an eleven o’clock lecture.
It would seem that one area in which students are generally connected with the outside world is in relation to politics. Students have traditionally held very strong and idealistic views of the world – in recent years, issues such as the Scottish referendum have demonstrated how passionate many students are about the future of their country. But recent figures suggest that only around 50% of university students were registered to vote in the last general election, indicating the possibility that overall, students take less interest in politics than the general UK population, the voter turnout of which was 60%.
For many students such as myself, part of the draw of the University of Edinburgh is the way in which the university’s various residences, offices and teaching locations are scattered throughout the city, allowing for a greater feeling of integration. Campus-based universities such as Strathclyde allow for a greater concentration of student activity, but some students bemoan the lack of diversity, particularly in first year, where on-site halls mean that if you wanted to you could last weeks without ever having to leave the safety of university-owned property. In some respects, this mirrors the situation at Oxbridge, where students live in their college, surrounded by those they study alongside, for the duration of their degree. Friends of mine studying have showed concern at the lack of responsibility they have to take for themselves as the university ensures that they don’t need to find their own accommodation, pay bills or even feed themselves, until three years later when they suddenly find themselves in the adult world. Although non-college based universities offer a more gradual introduction to the ‘real world’, what must be noted is the difference between universities in larger cities, and those, like St Andrews, which dominate the towns they occupy.
There can be no doubt that, to a certain extent, we do neglect considering the outside world within our daily lives. Yet many students find ways to overcome this, such as a friend who said that her job as a waitress has allowed her to make friends who don’t attend university. For those wanting to minimize the shock of entering the adult world upon graduation, this might be the best plan of action.