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Are commuter students getting the same university experience?

Are commuter students getting the same university experience?

The Guardian has revealed that due to soaring debts and high living costs, more and more students are living at home and commuting into university. 

From having lecture doors slammed in their face to being reprimanded by staff when public transport lets them down, are these students living a completely different university experience?

For a university system which has always been centered around the residential experience of living away from home with new people in new accommodation, for a growing number of students, this is simply not an option. Maintenance loans often don’t cover living costs and some parents are unable to help out financially.

So, commuter students are confined to their workings of public transport, constantly checking their phone on a night out or running from lectures to catch the train.

For those who drive into university, there is the hassle of finding parking places and beating the traffic in order to make it on time. According to the Guardian, these students are missing out considerably.

In 2011, university fees were trebled. Last year, grants were completely scrapped. It is clear that the level of students now living at home clearly points to the growing cost of studying and how for some, it is simply becoming not possible to even head to university.

For universities that have millions of pounds pumped into them each year, there is little to nothing aimed at commuter students. When looking through prospectuses, one can flick through countless accommodation offers, yet very little travel information.

According to Liz Thomas, professor of higher education at Edge Hill University, commuter students are regularly overlooked; ‘Commuter students are an overlooked and often misunderstood group. I find it shocking that students told us about being locked out of lectures or shouted at if they were held up. I have never been locked out of my office when the train was late’.

There is no option of simply rolling out of bed for commuter students, some have to travel up to two hours to their campus for a few lectures. When it comes to the Fresher experience, having to get home early from certain evening events to catch the last train, or being unable to drink with their friends due to driving home are problems often faced.

The director of the Higher Education Institute has commented on the links between commuting to university and dropping out. There is also evidence that commuter students are more likely to come from a low-income family and to partake in paid work alongside their studies. In addition, many also end up missing lectures because of the fear of being humiliated or shouted out by their tutors in front of hundreds of people.

For students who partake in lab work for their degree, a late arrival due to traffic or public transport can mean that they are not permitted into labs.

Many commuting students also find it hard to get involved in social groups, with many friendships at university really blossoming during the time in accommodation halls.

Azza Abdulla, a graduate from the University of Leicester, is working to stop commuting students from all over the country being ostracised.

She is leading an investigation into looking into what needs to be supplied for commuting students to make their university experience more enjoyable, from more car parking options through to more lectures being available online. Kingston, London, are already taking steps to help out their commuting students. Over 50 percent of all students here commute, and the university is now holding more lectures either mid-morning or in the afternoon to ensure that students are able to make it in.

According to Abdulla, small changes will make a big difference, even if it means placing lockers at the university so that students can have somewhere to keep their belongings all day.

Over the past few years, the universities in Manchester have made big changes for their commuting students, holding a separate residential event before the start of the academic year.

It seems that steps are being taken to allow students that commute increased opportunities to integrate, but should more be being done?

Elizabeth Whittingham Elizabeth is a history graduate currently working in content and communications.