An independent report published last month has undermined government efforts to tackle ‘studentification’ in University towns around the country.
The Rugg Review, which was originally commissioned by the government, found that any changes to the law limiting the number of HMOs in an area could be damaging.
‘Studentification’ is the term coined by Universities UK – the higher education lobby group – to explain the impact of mass student accommodation on towns and villages. The Government plans to tackle what it sees as the problem of ‘studentification’ in university towns and cities by introducing new laws and legislation.
Julie Rugg’s report argues that far from harming the local economy, the money that students and Higher Education Institutions bring in actually helps to ‘prop-up’ many areas. This to the extent that that the Government is actually looking to establish 20 new higher education centres across the country in order to aid regeneration in certain areas.
Ama Uzowuru, NUS’ Vice President (Welfare), explained how the Union “welcome this independent review, which is a victory for common sense.”
She added: “The report acknowledges that higher education institutions are a catalyst for regeneration and job creation and that although there are some problems, these should not be taken out of proportion. Out of over 8000 wards in England, only 59 have a significantly high density of student residents.
“It is important to remember that students often contribute a great deal to their community – not just through boosting the local economy, but also through their charity and fundraising activities.”
But in another government report, published by the Housing and Planning minister, Caroline Flint, the government seems determined to enforce stricter regulations on houses of multiple occupatipm (HMOs), the most common form of off-campus student accommodation.
According to Flint’s report, a high concentration of HMOs in one area can have a negative impact on the local neighbourhood. More empty residences during the summer mean more empty shops, businesses and pubs which have a detrimental effect on the local economy. During term time the problems are mainly those of litter, noise and parking.
“[The] report has identified a series of proven steps councils and universities can take to reduce the dramatic effects of ‘studentification’ where Houses of Multiple Occupation cluster too closely together,” Flint said.
“It is not acceptable that current rental practices allow unplanned student enclaves to evolve to such an extent that local communities are left living as ghost towns following the summer student exodus.”
Measures which could be introduced by the government include monitoring the number of HMOs in any given area, as is already the case in Nottingham. There they have established a HMO threshold of 25% per neighbourhood.
The issue is not just a national one. At the time it was first highlighted in 2006, Dr Darren Smith, urban geographer at the University of Brighton, stated: “Studentification is now becoming an international phenomenon. In Australia, Canada and Ireland, students also cluster in particular areas, and universities are increasingly seeking to enable purpose-built communities to accommodate students. In some contexts, this has led to the emergence of student ‘ghettos’ where students can be isolated from locals and not fully immersed in the local community.”