Nottingham has always been one of the few universities that doesn’t charge staff and students for car parking; however, September this year saw the introduction of a new car parking policy across the University’s campuses. Students once eligible for a free parking permit will now be charged and the University’s pay and display facilities have been expanded. In addition, the Security Services have begun to enforce car parking regulations more strictly and, according to the Head of Security, there have already been a “good number of students who have received notices for unauthorised parking on campus.”
Only those living 15 miles away or further can qualify for a permit. Students who are not eligible for a permit and are facing increased charges have voiced their concerns, claiming that the changes are unfair and merely another means of making profit: “I just see it as another way for the University to get money out of us — they’re already putting fees up to £9,000 next year!”
A sign in the security office’s window suggests that the staff have received several complaints about the changes, as it states that the new charges have been known for about 12 months and that abuse at the counter will not be tolerated. As unpopular as the costs of a permit may be, the security staff are merely performing their daily duties, and can do little if anything to influence the University’s policies.
However, are students’ protests actually warranted? Students who own cars often use them, not as an alternative to walking or catching the bus to lectures, but in order to travel to the sports centre or library in the evening or at the weekend. Many students don’t feel safe walking or cycling onto campus at such times, especially during dark winter months, and repeatedly travelling by bus to campus can get expensive. Is it really fair that the University has forced students to pay car parking charges on top of rising petrol costs, rising tuition fees, and a rising cost of living? Furthermore, those who are now facing charges when they park at the gym and swimming pool have already paid £199 for a gym membership. Why are those choosing to keep fit, and perhaps actively training whilst representing the university in various sporting fixtures, being punished for driving to train for such events?
The University’s apparent justifications for the new charges are tenuous. An article in the car parking section of the University’s website states that it is partly due to the costs of the pending City Council Workplace Parking Levy. The Levy, which will be introduced in April next year, is an annual charge made for each parking space that the University provides to its employees. However, these costs are being met by the money raised by staff parking permits rather than student permits; the full year permit charge for Nottingham staff exactly equals the cost of the annual levy.
Expanding the University’s environmental agenda is a further justification given by the University for the new charges, yet Nottingham’s green credentials are among the best in the world, having recently received second place in a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions. The majority of students we spoke to claimed that the new charges will not result in their leaving their cars at home as they need to use their cars to attend sports fixtures and commitments on campus, and they will simply have to pay the new charges.
So why has Nottingham really introduced these new policies? Perhaps those students who suspect that they are merely a way for the University to make some extra cash are right. In order to keep teaching standards high and general University facilities top-class, Nottingham obviously needs income. However, whilst even just one £50 parking ticket would be a significant inconvenience to a hard-up student, it is a relatively meagre amount when compared to the £20 million the University is spending on a new eco-friendly hotel, or even the thousands it will be raising from the increased tuition fees next year. The University’s first responsibility is to its students; surely it should prioritise their quality of life over raising a negligible amount of money.
Sabreena Zuleika and Shane Higgins