Impact Investigations Team
It is no secret that, across the country, students and residents have a tenuous relationship, particularly during this last academic year. But why and to what extent have relations deteriorated? Impact’s investigation team explores the growing antagonism in Lenton, surveying both residents and students to ask what can be done, and who is to blame?
Sixty percent of the permanent residents Impact surveyed* felt that students were a more disruptive presence in the local Nottingham area last academic year than in previous years. This statistic can likely be explained by the close proximity the two groups were forced into due to the pandemic, with students unable to leave their university accommodation. Confined to student areas such as Lenton, any socialising or partying shifted to the home. This finding was further reflected in our research which showed that one in four of the students surveyed received a noise complaint during this same period.
However, our survey results conveyed that the root of rising tensions between students and residents could be attributed to reasons other than open hostility and intolerance between the two parties. Sixty percent of residents surveyed actually felt that University management could have done more to ensure students complied with Covid-19 restrictions. This response comes despite the University of Nottingham handing out more fines in monetary terms in response to Covid-19 rule breaches than any other university in the UK. A University of Nottingham Freedom of Information request revealed that between September 2020 and July 2021, 322 Covid related formal disciplinary outcomes were imposed. This perhaps raises questions about the efficacy of their enforcement methods and suggests a commonality between students and residents, as both feel disillusioned by the University’s response.
Impact’s research also showed that, whilst 76 percent of residents found government regulations easy to understand, only 50 percent of students surveyed** felt government guidance was clear. Although some may claim that there was no ambiguity in rules, there was a widespread feeling amidst university students that government addresses had consistently failed to provide them with tailored advice. It was communicated that guidance did not acknowledge the unique situation many students found themselves in, particularly in regard to their housing ‘bubbles’, which were often far less clear cut than typical family nucleuses.
48 percent of students also felt that local media outlets acted unhelpfully during the pandemic, particularly by fuelling anti-student narratives which stoked division in areas such as Lenton. As one respondent reflected “the student community was actually very supportive… although this has not been exemplified in the papers or the media. Many students helped each other out doing shopping runs for those isolating and providing support networks for those struggling. This is something heavily omitted by the media.”
Echoing this, Professor Andy Long, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, told Impact that “contrary to some of the headlines we have seen in the media, we know that the vast majority of our students have abided by Government regulations, and we are grateful to those who have done their bit to keep themselves and others safe during the pandemic.”
At a university which recorded 24,947 full-time undergraduate students based on 2019-2020 data, there were only 79 Covid-related antisocial behaviour complaints filed over eleven months of the pandemic. The University further cautioned that one single event could receive multiple complaints, thus making it likely that the actual number of antisocial incidents was lower than the number of complaints filed.
Many also feel that the University bears responsibility for the narratives that it creates. In their most recent community newsletter, UoN management highlighted positive student-community engagement such as students helping in the NHS and vaccination programmes. However, the initial pages of the publication were headlined by the announcement of greater numbers of PCOs in Lenton and with Amy English, Neighbourhood Policing Inspector for Radford, Lenton and Arboretum, commenting on students’ “antisocial behaviour”. It is not surprising, therefore, that many students feel they are being demonised by their own educational institutions.
There is, evidently, the drive to make improvements in community relations. As Kate Loewenthal, head of Lenton’s Residents Association reflected: “Not all students are to blame. We would just like a more inclusive community with the University doing a lot more to support that.” Muhammad Ali, SU Community Officer, told Impact that he wanted to encourage “increased student engagement in initiatives such as litter picking” and “get students involved in a Lenton Day of Action”. He believes that “increased dialogue, communication and engagement from all is the way forward”. George Sullivan, Union Development Officer, told Impact about some of the already existing student initiatives, stating that the SU and University management could improve student relations “by advertising student outreach groups such as Soup Runner or Foodprint” to better showcase some of the positive work that students are doing.
Given the appetite for change and improvement in relations, it might be time to look beyond the campus. In a recent Times Education article, Stuart Laing said that ‘The Engaged University’ is the university of the future. What he means is that universities cannot continue to exist outside of the communities in which they are situated. Laing believes the focus should shift from making the institution look good, to ensuring the institution does good in its local area. He stresses, however, that this outreach work should not be viewed as “philanthropic activity” but rather as “reciprocity” in that the university and community mutually benefit and share their knowledge with one another.
With the University of Nottingham’s motto being “Sapientia urbs conditur” or “A City is Built on Wisdom”, it seems there is a whole wealth of knowledge ready to be tapped into, if only management would engage meaningfully with the local community. The future of student-resident relations in Lenton is dependent on more than student behaviour and conduct. It is dependent on the University building a relationship which facilitates growth and communication with the local community, a community which has been left for too long as an afterthought.
*68 Nottingham residents were surveyed
**58 University of Nottingham students were surveyed
Written and researched by Impact Investigations team
Impact Investigations team members:
Lauren Mcgaun, Niamh Robinson, Alice Nott, Rory Beveridge, Fatima Bobboyi, India Rose Campbell, Grace Elizabeth , Gareth Holmes