The luxury student industry this week reached a new high. Or low, perhaps.
From this month, wealthy teenagers moving to universities in the UK will be able to become the first official “VIFs” – Very Important Freshers.
While most students will be delivered to their digs by Dad’s Taxi Service, some will roll up in a supercar, a helicopter or even a private jet thanks to a new luxury service.
The cost for this white-glove treatment ranges up to £25,000. You may see this, above all, as an excellent marketing ploy for Uni Baggage, the Belfast-based baggage transport service, which starts at £16.99 and is used by more than 20,000 customers a year, mainly students.
But Uni Baggage co-founder Paul Stewart says the company received two “deadly serious” enquiries on launch day, and such “VIF” extravagance could be seen as simply the next logical step in delivering the luxury experience supposedly expected by today’s wealthy students – particularly those from abroad.
Mr Stewart says international students are indeed the main target audience for the all-in-one chauffeur and moving service. This lucrative segment of the UK student body has already attracted major investment by property developers, not least in the capital where the dedicated student housing market is most mature. High-spec student lets in central London routinely cost more than most mortgages.
“Deluxe” studios in one set of halls in Bloomsbury, managed by Mansion Student, are on offer for £580 per week, to take one example. Given that the contract is for 51 weeks, rather than an academic year, a room will set parents back roughly £30,000 per year. Add that to the £9,000 undergraduate tuition fees and the cost of a university education is already nudging £40,000 a year – although this is admittedly little more than a number of country’s most-esteemed boarding schools would charge.
You might ask yourself whether any self-respecting first-year student, keen to make a good impression and new friends, would risk alienating themself by landing on the quad in a chopper and residing in a gated community.
Unlike the historic tradition of generous (and often canny) parents buying a modest pad for their child and choice friends, it somehow seems against the spirit of university life.
But then again, the cost of student living is hurtling upwards as purpose-built accommodation replaces grotty halls or even grottier off-campus digs. Rents in my old university halls in Bath – which dated (badly) from the early 1970s – have risen by two-thirds over the past eight years, to £118 a week – an annual inflation rate of 6.4 per cent. And they aren’t even en suite; the privilege of not sharing a shower starts at £135 a week. Off-campus private flats are even more; modern shared student flats in Bath, offered by housing group Unite, start at £183 per week, for example.
Providing student children with a room in purpose-built halls, free from rising damp and the occasional rodent, is a very understandable parental decision, particularly for those living overseas. But the character-forming benefits of a stint in digs should not be underestimated, and the two years I spent sharing modest houses (not Grade 1 listed town houses) in Bath helpfully lowered my standards ahead of a move to London as a graduate.
Time at university is formative for every student. Arriving at halls in a sedan chair may not set the best precedent for most freshers, even though it may spare them the embarrassment of their parents dropping them off at the front door.