Saturday, 26 January 2013

# 13 (2013) Student Economy

People get very upset when you say that students don't contribute to the economy of a town. I read something about Lincoln today as yet more student accommodation looks set to take shape on derelict land in the town. And even though Lincoln apparently only houses around 12,000 students in any one academic year, a small drop in the ocean compared to its 93,000 population, you can't deny that certain aspects of the city are geared almost entirely to the student population.

Of more concern in that respect is the drop in student recruitment numbers in the last two years - something I saw quite dramatically even in my second year in 2010. It is changes like this - due in part to the raising of student fees - which will have a detrimental effect on the town in the long term.

Student accommodation dominates sections of the skyline (source)
The lower city - including the High Street, Brayford and West End - is the area most predominantly taken over by student related businesses. It is mainly accommodation (both halls and house share rents), bars, clubs, academic buildings and their associated bars such as The Shed and the Engine Shed, and a whole host of cheap and cheerful food and drink outlets, lower end clothing stores and other cheap chain brands more often seen in depressed towns. They are places that regular shoppers have cottoned on to. If I'm going to go out to eat, I am more likely to go to a student bar or budget restaurant than anywhere else.

The upper town - Bailgate and surrounding areas - does have a student presence, but there is a whole different feel to the area, with more expensive restaurants, tourist attractions and niche interest shops, all of which are outside the budget of most students.

Students are part time residents for 9 months of the year. They rarely spend their summer breaks or Christmases here and instead go home to jobs or the bank of mum and dad to stretch their grants still further.

Part time work that fits in around studies is sometimes essential but not so easy to find (source)
Grants are spent mostly on accommodation, food and entertaining, although the standard is to get tanked up before you go out and make a couple of drinks out last all evening. Last year rent alone exceeded the student grant. I survived on savings I had put aside and a limited food budget. Entertainment was off the cards completely.

New Year  2013 when you would have expected the town to be packed with students, was like a ghost town. And with the recession as it is, the population isn't that appealing to other types of business.

Someone claimed that students do remain on in the city after their courses finish but I don't believe there is much here for them post education. I didn't find any actual figures for the numbers remaining on in the town and I know of only a few from my course who are still here. Two (including me) were residents anyway and the others are still doing the jobs they were doing to top up their grants whilst they were at Uni.  They are not in their industry of choice.

Lincoln does not offer a wide range of job opportunities pertaining to courses although it has the usual smattering of jobs - administration, legal, press, retail etc. Many students migrate to bigger cities such as London or back home to recover their finances. I don't remember anyone being encouraged to stay on here.

Lincoln may be called a city but it is not big enough to sustain people like one. It's really a town and it behaves like one.

I've been here four and a half years now. I've decided, perhaps foolishly, to hang on just a bit longer, but I have to say I'm not feeling much love for the place right now. For my business, the population, size of the town, plus the recession are stretching me to breaking point and I'm having to downsize yet again to keep a roof over my head. I have found no client base here and I have no resources on which to draw to help run my business so limited is the high street.  

Lincoln was a dying town before the University arrived - so I am told over and over again - and yes, its transformation into a University town must be doing something for it, but I think all the talk about the students being the saving grace of the place are a little exaggerated. It may also be that the strong University presence has pushed other businesses out of the area.

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