Students caused £600,000 worth of damage to universities, figures show

The figures showed more than £100,000 of damage to Aberdeen University

By Niamh Anderson

THE Young Ones made undergraduate excess an art form but it seems they have nothing on Scotland’s students.

Universities north of the border have suffered damage worth more than £600,000 at the hands of their own students in the past five years.

And, much like celebrated fictional hellraisers Rick, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike, Scottish students specialise in stained mattresses, broken headboards, flooding and fire damage.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) show there were at least 14,000 cases of damage recorded in university residential halls since 2006 – an average of seven a day.

Despite the extent of the destruction wreaked by drunken and high-spirited undergraduates, fines are rare and the highest recorded was just £200.

Taxpayers’ groups called last night for Scottish universities to take a harder line with students who destroy or damage property.

According to the figures from Scotland’s 21 universities, the bill for damage since November 2006 has hit at least £610,000.

And the Granite City emerges from the research as having the most destructive students.

Aberdeen University – whose alumni include mild-mannered former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling – recorded almost £144,000-worth of damage in more than 4,300 separate cases.

Their “top five” incidents were “mattress damage (torn or stained)”, damage to walls, discolouration through smoking, rubbish left in rooms and missing or damaged fire equipment.

The university – the fifth oldest University in the UK – recorded an average of four incidents of damage a week.

But despite the huge bill for cleaning and repairs, the University admitted: “Most of the damage is identified once the students have vacated the property and it is unlikely to lead to disciplinary action.”

Neighbouring Robert Gordon University recorded damage worth £114,000 in three years, meaning its annual average is higher than Aberdeen University.

There were 2772 separate incidents and the university listed the most common cases as damage to fire safety equipment, stained and damaged mattresses, damage to walls, floor coverings and soft furnishings.

The university insisted it took a tough line with offenders, however, saying: “Students who have persisted in causing vandalism have been evicted from student residences.”

Despite its elite status as a member of the Russell Group, the University of Edinburgh managed an unenviable third in the destruction league, suffering damage worth £113,000 to its halls of residence.

The University of Edinburgh, whose famous past pupils include former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and naturalist Charles Darwin, suffered  2666 individual incidents overall.

But the prestigious University failed to discipline any students. “The above incidences very rarely fall under the Disciplinary Code and there are no known instances of it occurring in the above periods,” the university admitted.

Fourth were students at  Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, where a new £100m campus opened in 2008.

The university has suffered damage worth £74,000 in halls in 196 incidents, including yet more stained mattresses, damaged kitchen worktops, fire extinguishers set off, ceiling tiles smashed, and damaged oven doors.

Only one formal case of disciplinary action has been taken over the damage.

The University of Abertay, Dundee, suffering damage worth £65,000 in 4360 separate incidents.

Fire extinguishers, fire alarms, windows, and doors were the most commonly damaged and punishment was “rarely deemed necessary”.

Robert Oxley, Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Students causing mayhem in their halls should cover the costs themselves of any damage they inflict on university accommodation.

He added: “Taxpayers expect the higher education budget to be spent on academic results, not fixing the furniture broken by drunken students.”

But a medical student in the University of Aberdeen said she was not surprised to hear about the trail of destruction that students leave behind them after a stint in halls.

Hazel Leslie,  21,  said: “This revelation doesn’t surprise me in the slightest although they seemed to pick up on the most minor of things. Luckily I lived in halls where furniture was dirt cheap.

“If they provided students with things worth looking after it might make a difference but then again the majority of us do tend to have the odd wild party where drinks are inevitably going to get spilled. I do think it’s unreasonable to expect that they’ll be left immaculate.

The 3rd year student added: “Most people do respect the place but there is always an idiot in each block who thinks its hilarious to sef off the fire extinguisher.”

Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, said the figures represented a “tiny minority” of students and that much of the damage was “wear and tear”.

He added: “Where there has been deliberate damage done by anyone, they should have to face the consequences, and universities will have appropriate measures in place to do this. Given that we know how strapped for cash many students are, we would remain dubious that they would intentionally cause damage which only hurts their wallets.”

No-one was available for comment from Aberdeen University.

Jonathan Shackleton, head of communications for Robert Gordon University said: “We believe our students are no better or worse than those in student accommodation in other universities.

“We have initiated new inventory procedures which detail the standard of each room to ensure that claims aren’t made for pre-existing problems.  We also have information campaigns to make students more aware of the most common causes of chargeable damage in these facilities.

He added: “In general damage is caused by high spirited but avoidable incidents and not through malicious intent in most cases.”

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