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Students as others see them - article in The Economist magazine

August 25, 2017 4:35 PM
FOR a glimpse of how student housing has changed, drive into Newcastle from the east. First, the route passes through Heaton, a former working-class suburb crammed with terraced housing, the sort of digs long occupied by students. It then continues to Manors, where student accommodation is of a different class: high-rise, purpose-built towers jut out, with more rising from the ground. On a weekday morning during the summer holidays, the side streets are eerily empty, so dominated is the area by students.

Similar neighbourhoods can be found in towns across the country, reflecting the rapid growth of higher education in recent decades. In 1994 there were 1.5m students in Britain. By 2015 there were 2.2m. Economists have found a close link between universities and economic growth. Colleges are big employers and students spend freely and provide a flexible workforce. Universities have helped to transform cities gutted by industrial collapse.

(But) even in areas that have benefited from an influx of scholars, like Ouseburn, a once run-down part of Newcastle, locals remain sceptical. "We have a mix of customers," explains a barkeeper at the Ship Inn. "We don't need more students."

Some councils have responded by intervening in the local housing market. In places as diverse as Bristol and Portsmouth, councils have introduced a directive so that developers need permission to convert family homes into those intended for more occupants. Before it was invoked in Newcastle, families were being pushed out of parts of the city, says Greg Stone, a Liberal Democrat councillor.