Cathays is dominated by the presence of Cardiff University, a mighty force in the city which tolerates no check on its expansionist ambitions. Over the last 20 years, as universities have changed from centres of learning into fiercely competitive businesses scrambling for positions on those all-important Times Higher Education Supplement ranking tables, Cardiff University, without debate or democratic mandate, has conspired with unscrupulous absentee landlords to destroy Cathays. What used to be the very best part of Cardiff for Cardiffians to live in, its network of Victorian terraced streets a lively, diverse and sociable inter-generational and inter-ethnic mix of all classes within minutes of town, is now the most student-saturated area in the entire UK. The phenomenon dubbed ‘studentification’ has occurred in university towns and cities across the UK, but few come close to matching the studentification of Cardiff, where 14% of the total population are students. In southern Cathays that figure rises to an amazing 66%, giving the area a higher percentage of students than anywhere else in Europe. This isn’t a community; it’s a campus.
What’s wrong with that? Students bring youthful dynamism, regeneration, cultural renaissance, an educated, engaged population and new restaurants, cafes, bars and leisure amenities…don’t they? Er, no. They bring infantilism, rotting housing, community death, a transient, oblivious population and toxic takeaways, cheap off-licenses, ghettoised pubs and fly-tipping. It’s not their fault: undergraduates will always be undergraduates, and today’s commodified students are as much victims as the people of Cathays. The true perpetrators are easily fingered.
First and foremost comes the abominable Blair/Brown London government of 1997-2010 (Britain already had a war-mongering party dedicated to looking after the interests of the rich – did it really need two?). During Labour’s years in power they doubled student numbers as a wheeze to stoke economic growth, disguise youth unemployment and tout for globalised capital. At the same time they abolished grants and introduced loans, ensuring that 21 year-olds leave their colleges burdened with an average £25,000 of debt and deeply in hock to the consumer monoculture before they even begin earning. It was all dressed up in weasel-words about the ‘knowledge economy’ which, as ever with New Labour, meant the precise opposite: an ignorance economy of non-productive, socially useless work in finance, insurance, sales, media, marketing and the like, essential only to the pyramid-selling scams of the profit system. As for the talk about ‘spreading opportunities’, that too was just more bullshit: under Labour social mobility went into reverse, income inequality widened and birth disadvantage was further entrenched. All that happened was that the old middle-class protection racket of the degree system was extended to the lower middle-classes, creating a mutual congratulation society awash with “qualifications” whose real purpose was to disqualify the working-classes. The days when someone with natural intelligence could leave school at 16 and rise by merit and talent into a smart white-collar job were ended, ushering in the ludicrous situation where you require a degree in Hospitality Management to be allowed to pour a cup of coffee for Starbucks. The bar was lowered so that three mediocre A-levels became a passport to further education (25%? Excellent! Welcome to the University of Chipping Sodbury!) and a virtually guaranteed degree, since the more degrees an institution issued the greater the central funding it received, the higher its place in the ‘league tables’ and the more chance it had of raking in the overseas students who delivered the big money. In this feelgood Never Never Land where all shall receive prizes, a degree became devalued currency indicating nothing more than an ability to Google and put up with three years of lectures and, revealingly, as graduation became more commonplace it was accompanied by increasingly extravagant, po-faced, US-style ceremonies with mortar-boards-in-the-air hoo-hah: a photo opportunity and a day out for the “proud” parents before all those exalted BAs and BScs faced chastening reality as Sad Grads signing on at the Job Centre with nothing special to offer an employer and up to their eyeballs in debt. Blair’s children stalk the land, laden with more vellum parchment scrolls than you can shake a stick at, yet unable to tell you the name of Wales’ First Minister, much less the capital of Bulgaria. It’s what makes Britain grate.
Then there is Cardiff University itself, an unaccountable monster before which the city is supposed to defer because, apparently, it’s the motor driving the Cardiff economy and, according to its prospectus, is considered “world class” in the groves of academe (the fact it has tumbled 36 places in the world rankings from 99th to 135th in the last four years is not mentioned). Vice-Chancellor David Grant leads the organisation with all the high moral fibre one would expect from an Englishman with a background in the arms industry, while the latest President and figurehead is Martin Evans, another Englishman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work creating genetically-modified mice. Under their tenure Cardiff University continues to pursue size as an end in itself and continues to forfeit the respect and affection Cardiffians once held for it.
When it was founded in 1883 as the College of South Wales & Monmouthshire in the vacant Glamorganshire & Monmouthshire Infirmary building on Newport Road, the bells of St John’s Church rang out all day in celebration and cheering crowds thronged the streets. In 1893 it became one of the three founding colleges, with Aberystwyth and Bangor, of the federal University of Wales, a rare all-Wales body which was set up only after a 40-year campaign and thanks to the financial support of the Welsh people – London being quite content that Wales should be the only country in the UK without a university (had Owain Glyndwr’s 15th century insurrection been successful, Wales would have had these universities half a millennium earlier, as his education policy statement of 1404 makes clear). Cardiff’s first Principal, and also the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, was the brilliant scientist and tireless campaigner for Wales, John Viriamu Jones (1856-1901) from Swansea. He gathered an able band of scholars and teachers around him and quickly established the College as a serious institution. The indefatigable Jones persuaded Cardiff Corporation to donate a site in Cathays Park, but did not live long enough to see the new buildings occupied in 1909.
Through the years the University College developed an organic relationship with the rest of Cardiff, a benign and positive presence not restricted to the children of the rich, as was the case with other UK universities, while drawing 75% of its undergraduates from Wales and pioneering ‘lifelong learning’ with part-time classes for adults in the evenings. It stayed true to the democratic impulses behind its foundation by creating educational opportunities regardless of wealth, gender and creed, and up until the 1960s the 3,000 undergraduates were an integral and proportionate feature of Cardiff. Bringing earnestness, bohemianism and intellectual spark, the students in their red & black college scarves were a reassuring sight in the Cathays environs and city centre pubs and cafes; ‘town’ and ‘gown’ freely inter-relating to the benefit of both. The rot began to set in due to a familiar Cardiff failing: delusions of grandeur. Aspiring for “international” status, the College gradually forgot its roots and its prime responsibility to Wales, without which it would have no nation to be international from. The College “built on the pennies of the poor”, the miners, quarrymen and chapel-goers of Wales who had raised the money for the only people’s university in Europe, rapidly transformed into just one more British provincial university. By the time Thatcherism halted the post-war expansion of education in the 1980s Cardiff University’s Welsh undergraduates made up a mere 25% of the total, its specific remit and founding purpose to provide for the youth of Wales had been ditched, and from being at the heart of Welsh intellectual life it became the only capital city university in the world where the native population were in a minority – of teaching staff as well as students. Under the Vice-Chancellorship of Brian Smith Cardiff joined the elitist Russell Group in 1999, a powerful lobby for the abolition of grants, the raising of fees and the commercialisation and privatisation of education. From that point it was a short step to complete secesssion from the collegiate structure of the University of Wales in 2004, when the name Cardiff University was officially adopted. This was a major contributory factor in the final ignominious demise of the University of Wales in 2011. Following Cardiff’s lead, the College of Medicine, College of Music & Drama, Aberystwyth, Swansea and Bangor all departed and, without its biggest institutions, the University of Wales was reduced to flogging degrees overseas – a scandal that brought about its collapse. Merged into Trinity St David, Lampeter, it is now merely a service provider for the Welsh higher education sector. Meanwhile, Cardiff ended the commitment to lifelong learning in 2009, when the teaching of literature, history, archaeology, music, creative writing, philosophy, media studies, art history, religion, photography and Welsh were all axed. Aggrieved that Welsh devolution means they can’t charge the huge fees allowed in England, the University would doubtless secede from Wales itself if it only could.
The further it has departed from its Welsh wellspring, the more alienated the University has become from Cardiff and the more irelevant it has become to true scholarship. Now essentially a bottom-line business with a huge property portfolio, it concentrates on activities that maximise revenue and attract corporate funds. Tellingly, the largest department is the Business School, packed with advocates of neocon free-market economics – none of whom managed to anticipate the banking crash of 2008. Every September another 10,000 freshers pour into Cathays from suburban England for three years of getting rat-arsed with each other, barely cognisant of the fact they are in Wales, before departing with their useless second-class degrees. It’s not as if they even inject the counterculture, rebellion and radicalism of old: Cardiff has fewer live music venues now than it did when student numbers were a fraction of the current 42,000 (including UWIC and the University of Glamorgan); the anaesthetising and desensitising effects of alcohol are the favoured means of altering consciousness; a tattoo, a crazy hair-do and a Facebook account are the extent of this generation’s deviance; and depoliticisation of youth has been so thorough that a Students Union rally to protest at fee hikes attracted a grand total of six to the barricades. Apathy and fatalism have replaced activism and idealism. The NUS newspaper, Gair Rhydd, used to win prizes for its journalism – now it reads like the kind of lightweight lifestyle supplement that comes with the Mail on Sunday. As for the economic benefits that are supposed to be showering on Cardiff, the vast majority of the Uni’s 6,000 employees endure dreary, low-paid admin work while 75% of the high-paid academic and research posts go to incomers – and in any case this comes nowhere near to matching the 10,000 jobs across the complete range of working possibilities that existed in Cathays alone before the University’s bloating binge began. Apart from landlords and fast food outlets, there are now no beneficiaries from the University’s presence in Cardiff, and you can be sure that none of today’s graduates will feature in future roll-calls of distinguished alumni. For all the posturing about global significance, and the insulting insinuation that Wales is far too small a pond for this Big Fish, the University no longer produces the stellar talents it did when it concentrated on its Welsh mission. John ‘Gwili’ Jenkins (1872-1936), WJ Gruffydd (1881-1954), Morfydd Llwyn Owen (1891-1918), Dorothy Edwards (1903-1934), Caradog Prichard (1904-1980), Grace Williams (1906-1977), Gwyn Jones (1907-1999), Ken Etheridge (1911-1981), Pennar Davies (1911-1996), Alun Llywelyn-Williams (1913-1988), Roy Jenkins (1920-2003), Dannie Abse (1923-2014), Bernice Rubens (1928-2004), Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008), Bobi Jones (1929-2017) and Gillian Clarke are a few of the names of genuine renown nurtured in just the Arts faculties of the old University College. While this conveyor belt of excellence has ground to a halt resources are pumped into the Science faculties, where cosy relationships with Big Business determine the direction and tenor of “research” – which, surprise surprise, always ends up endorsing the accepted truth that new technologies automatically trump old ones. By abandoning the development of its own indigenous talents to become a handmaiden for corporate power and a qualifications sausage-machine for the English middle-classes, the University has thrown away the genuine international standing it once possessed. There’s a word for this: thick.
The third unrestrained force to wreck Cathays is the buy-to-let brigade. In their quest to make a fast buck out of the explosion in student numbers they pounced on Cathays’ housing stock in a gluttonous frenzy during the Blair ‘boom’, urged on by easy lending, multiple mortgages, tax breaks and deregulation. Street after street fell into their clutches as locals were outgunned financially by the landlords and long-standing tenants turfed out to make way for a rapid turnover of short-lease students. The solid houses, ideal for families, were converted into multiple-occupancy dwellings, the better to wring every last drop from all those student loans. A three-bedroom home became a six-bedsits source of unearned income, reconfigured internally so that restoration to its original condition would be impossible. Touted to speculators by estate agents as a property hot-spot where a small house could deliver an effortless income stream of £30,000 a year in rent, Cathays became a forest of ‘for sale’ and ‘to let’ signs. The average price of a property soared as the landlords, usually the opportunist from the English home counties or the reliably unscrupulous local builder, sat back and raked in the profits, so encouraging more of the already loaded to pile in to try their hand at unlicensed amateur landlordism and fatten up their pensions. Cathays was annexed by people who cared nothing for the area’s history and community and wouldn’t dream of living there; Cardiffians were expelled from the core of their own town. The property bubble burst in due course, but by then it was too late. The vicious circle of studentification had turned Cathays into a place where nobody but students, passing through for a few months, would want to live anyway. Shops and pubs shut, replaced by here-today-gone-tomorrow takeaways and themed bars. Primary Schools closed for want of children. Unmaintained, and left vacant outside of term time, the houses have become run-down slums. Front gardens are dumping grounds for fouled mattresses, old furniture and disused pizza cartons as the landlords clear rooms between tenancies, unwilling to fork out for a skip and leaving the Council to pick up the tab, while slobbish, spoilt-brat students who proudly shit all over the neighbourhood contribute no Council Tax at all. Wheelie bins overflow, garden walls and fences collapse, damp penetrates cracked mortar, rats run riot, phenomenal quantities of litter are everywhere, noise and anti-social behaviour are the norm. Picking one road at random, Richards Street in the very heart of Cathays: in the middle of the academic year virtually every single house is for rent on both sides as far as the eye can see – each ‘to let’ sign a nail in the argument that housing is best left to market forces. Meanwhile Cardiff has 12,000 on the social housing waiting list, the tip of a homelessness iceberg concealing countless more who don’t bother to register because it takes decades to rise up the list. In term time parking is impossible because today’s students insist that daddy buys them a car and there are often four cars or more per house (so much for the whole point of living “within walking distance” of the University). Then, for five months a year during holidays Cathays becomes a ghost town, landlords biding their time for the next batch of students rather than making much-needed homes available to the less lucrative demographic of families with children – and thus putting more pressure on Cardiff to spread out into the green belt for want of affordable and available housing in the city. And, on top of all this, there is the immeasurable loss of diversity, culture and sense of community. A nightmare combination of inconsiderate tenants with no stake in the district and no intention of getting involved with the few remaining local residents, plus nasty landlords who revel in their callous disregard for everyone but themselves, has wreaked turmoil and murdered one of Cardiff’s most special neighbourhoods. It’s got so bad that even Cardiff Council has recognised the problem, but their cure has been as bad as the ailment: grant planning permission willy-nilly for privately-run halls of residence, supposedly to take the pressure off Cathays and fill the gap between the 5,000 places provided by the University in its 15 halls of residence and the 35,000 students requiring housing. These private halls are provided by a new breed of exploitative parasites: fund management groups looking after the money of big institutional investors. Playing on the fears of security-obsessed parents who want their little darling safe in a CCTV-monitored gulag, guaranteed 100% occupancy rates by deals with the University, and charging extortionate rents rising annually at double the rate of inflation, companies like Liberty Living and Unite are making a killing and awarding investors a copper-bottomed 10% return on their money – even in the worst property slump for decades. Severn Point in North Road, Cambrian Point in Maindy Road, Victoria Hall in Blackweir Terrace and Allensbank House in Clodien Avenue promise freshers a funky vibe with chill-out rooms and wireless broadband; what they actually get is teeny-weeny stacked-up box rooms and one-sided contracts which demand a minimum year’s rental to relieve the gullible newcomers of their entire annual loan. Nobody signs up for a second year: that’s when the older, wiser and rightly resentful 20 year-olds take their chances, and their revenge, in Cathays. And, as filthy, overpriced Cathays becomes unattractive even to students, studentification increasingly creeps outwards to bring blight to Maendy, Roath and Heath.
The people of Cathays have been treated with contempt, the once life-enhancing public spheres known by every Cardiffian are now gormless non-places where the only purpose is profit for the few, the decent homes in neighbourly streets have been lost, and the only education going on is how to get pissed for under a tenner. This is failure on an epic scale.
Do you think I’m overstating the case? Do you think I’m being unfair? Well, actually, I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of the full damage. An old friend of mine has lived in Wyeverne Road all her life. She has seen her world turned upside down in no time: gone are her familiar haunts, her rich network of interdependent relationships and her sense of belonging, along with the myriad local amenities on her doorstep. She finds herself in a slum, a stranger in her own street, never knowing who lives next door let alone who vomits on her window sill. Since Cathays’ first terraced streets were laid out in the 1870s a century of personal histories, shared narratives and Cathays characteristics had been painstakingly accrued and made manifest in sandstone and slate along the likes of Wyeverne Road – and then, quite suddenly, they were obliterated, right before her eyes. Her life’s been ruined. She is one among thousands with similar stories.
Hope lies in the devolution process which gives Wales a chance to uncouple itself from the divisive, dysfunctional and discredited ‘British’ educational tradition, currently personified to perfection by the ConDem’s Secretary of State for Education, swivel-eyed rightwing ideologue Michael Gove. We need to redefine education to bring it into line with human experience. We all know that learning doesn’t cease the moment you leave school. Like it or not, we are pupils at one long, ever-changing lesson; we really are enroled at that proverbial University of Life. The arbitrary and artificial divide between “students” and “non-students” is a product of an education philosophy made in hierarchical England and unchanged since Victorian times. Wales can do much better than that. The early advocates of the University of Wales had a truly radical vision in which all Welsh people could consider themselves students of the national university. That plan could not be implemented due to the London veto, and Wales had to settle for John Viriamu Jones’ well-meaning but flawed model. The concept should be dusted down for the 21st century to create a Wales where everybody has free access to the education they want throughout their entire life. Cardiff University, founded by the people, intended for the people and built on land donated by the people can be reclaimed for the people as a truly universal institution. And Cathays? Battered, bruised, beseiged, belittled Cathays? We will rebuild.
fair comment. if a little unfair on the amount of work it takes the average student to get a second class degree at Cardif. I’m sure a similar piece could be written about the gentrification of canton and the superficiality of pontcana. come to think of it where is the authentic cardiff after which our contributor hankers.
Your unhinged, racist rant would be better if it wasn’t so full of factual inaccuracies. Uni of wales, combined no of students etc.
Ah, that old “racist” charge: always thrown at Wales when we dare to ask for what is routine and unremarkable in every other nation. The Sorbonne is thoroughly French, Harvard utterly American, Oxbridge deeply English, etc – why should Cardiff Uni not be overwhelmingly Welsh? That’s the prime directive of all universities, to educate the young of their own nation, and Cardiff was very specifically formed for that purpose. By mentioning the great unmentionable – the massive, disproportionate presence of the English at Cardiff – I’m not being racist, I’m being descriptive. If 75% of undergrads and teaching staff were, say, Peruvian, that would be worth pointing out I think you’d agree. Or, let’s put it another way in terms that someone who hides behind the cloak of anonymity might grasp: try to imagine the reaction if 75% of London University places went to the Welsh. Accusing me of racism because I defend Wales is like calling an Afghani racist for yelling “Yanks go home.” It’s a tactic often employed by the enemies of Wales to muddy the waters and divert attention from the truth – I remember Gwynedd Council’s attempt to stop the spread of holiday homes being opposed on the same wickedly twisted grounds. The Welsh have always, and will always, welcome all races, including our intimate next-door neighbours the English. We are an internationalist people by instinct, by history and by necessity. But the situation in Cathays isn’t internationalism – it’s a takeover.
For your information the Welsh Assembly Government wants even more English students at Welsh universities to pay for its policy of funding Welsh students to study in England. You can blame the WAG for that, because I can tell you Welsh universities didn’t want it.
Oh, and to reply to one of the many factual errors in your original piece, viz
“Aggrieved that Welsh devolution means they can’t charge the huge fees allowed in England, the University would doubtless secede from Wales itself if it only could.”
Cardiff charges £9K per annum, precisely the same as English universities.
I’m fairly sure there aren’t enough Welsh students or academics in existence for it to be possible for Cardiff University’s population to be made up of a sizeable of either. And I hate to say it, but applying the analogy of other independent countries’ universities is false,
Although I get the impression the fact displeases you, there has never been an independent Wales, and for half a millennium Wales has been part of ‘England & Wales’. All Wales’ internal structures of state, such as education, were created as part of a larger system.
So to represent Wales’ education system as being overburdened with English students is as misleading as representing the Northumbrian (a region annexed by England about the same time as Wales, making it a fair comparison) education as being overburdened with English students. There is no Welsh or Northumbirian education system, only a English-&-Welsh system, which in all places English-&-Welsh students & staff are in a comfortable Majority.
I invite you to visit the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University, where I work, to see how hard the students work, and discover what they’re really like: charming, polite and socially responsible.
That might diminish your evident prejudice against the younger generation.
I don’t accept your underpinning premise, telescoper. For me there is no such thing as “the younger generation”, there’s just people. And when one very narrow range of people makes up 66% of a community it is socially undesirable no matter what their age. At the other end of the spectrum, areas like Lakeside and Lisvane in Cardiff malfunction because they have a disproportionate percentage of retired people. A healthy community, as Cathays once was, contains all generations. I take it your invite is just a rhetorical device, not for real. Anyhow I know plenty of students already and, yes, many are “charming, polite and socially responsible.” I just wish a few more were revolting, rude and socially radical – because if you ain’t at 20 you sure won’t be at 40.
I was sure you wouldn’t accept my premise. People with fixed ideas resent the intrusion of facts.
My invitation was real. I fear however that if you’re looking for rudeness you won’t find it here.
Having been pointed here by one of my professors, I thought I’d weigh in, as an Astronomy PhD student in Cardiff who also did their undergraduate Master’s here.
Well the observations seem mostly true, but the conclusions all seem to be to pretty racistly blaming it upon the English. It’s manifestly obvious that the businessification of education (perpetrated by the “London” New Labour government that of course in no way had any Welsh MPs) is resoundingly awful, and that it has lead Cardiff University to make some pretty poor decisions. No arguement from me.
I also wouldn’t argue that Cathays is oversaturated with students, and that there are too many students overall these days anyway. But I expect the pursuit of money to be the foremost root of the decline of the cultural aspects of the area. Even had student numbers not ballooned, chain pubs will always be more profitable the small local ones, and cookie-cutter entertainment venues will always tend to be more reliably successful than unique boutiques.
The council should definitely do more to see to good standards of housing & building maintenance, and to prevent houses from being quite so brutally divided-up into multiple residences. Extensions & loft conversions can add plenty of space without gutting a building’s original innards.
I personally stay in Cardiff over summer anyway, but most of the reason that students houses remain occupied over the holidays is that they’re still rented out by the students over that period so that they don’t have to take all their belongings home with them every year. Which would only be practical if they all had cars, which the author seems rather set against (and which seems a fair enough objection to me; although I, unlike the author, think that those studnets who do have cars buy them with their own money).
AndI think there should be a system of incentives/penalties to get landlords to let a given proportion of their properties in Cathays to non-students, and to spread students (but not over-densely-so) accross Roath, Heath, Maindy, etc.
But bemoaning that 75% of academics aren’t ‘natives’ seems bizarre; would the University be improved by not hiring academics because they’re the best at what they do, but rather because they just happened to be born to Welsh parents?
And slating the sciences seems weird, especially given Wales’ pedigree in science & engineering. And I’m certainly not sure which aspect of ‘big business’ dictates the tenor of the School of Physics & Astronomy’s research. If the expansion of the service sector is an economic cul-de-sac for Britain (which I agree with), then it seems to me that the best way of getting back to actually making-and-selling-stuff is not down the route of cheap factory labour (in which we can never beat the East and maintain the living standards to which we’ve become accustomed), but rather more hi-tech industry. But such an expansion requires exactly the investment in Science & Engineering that the the article seems to bemoan.
Oh bugger, I wrote an essay, didn’t I?
When writing an essay as a PhD student, would you normally strive to avoid a punctuation error in the first para and two spelling errors in the second?
I think you’ll find that the ‘businessification’ of education – the red line that appears when you type that word means that it is misspelled or doesn’t exist incidentally – was not an invention of New Labour, more of a fait accompli when they entered office. Students eh?
As a point of information, of the 20,000 or so Welsh applicants to university this year (as of January 2012) about 50% have elected to study in England.
Even if al these students all went to University of London Colleges (or Imperial College, which is no longer part of the University of London), that would amount to less than 20% of the student population. And that doesn’t include the many former polytechnics in London.
I do wish that more Welsh students would study in Wales, but it’s their choice to do otherwise. I also wish more overseas students would come here, and more students from England. Universities should be places that look beyond national borders.
However, you are also right to say that universities should integrate with their local communities. Cardiff University does, not only in being one of the largest employers in Wales but also in helping train the next generation of scientists, engineers, journalists, historians, school teachers, doctors and so on.
Despite the crazy decisions of the Westminster government, and the ill-thought-out response of the WAG, I strongly believe that Cardiff University is a powerful force for good for the City of Cardiff, for Wales, and for the UK population generally. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t have moved here (from a much more “prestigious” English university).
ps. If you want more Welsh students to study at Cardiff University, you would be better off campaigning against the WAG’s decision to subsidize Welsh students studying in England rather than attacking English students who come here. The WAG’s policy means that a huge slice of the devolved Higher Education budget in Wales is handed back to England, so Welsh Universities are reliant on outside income (mainly from English students) to make ends meet. I think it’s a crazy policy.
Having parked my tank on Cardiff Uni’s lawn I expected retaliation, so I’m grateful for your comments Chris and telescoper – they add depth, breadth, variety and, er, academic rigour to the blog. I note neither of you argue with my central point about the destruction of Cathays – that’s because it’s inarguable, as a stroll around any Cathays street with its plethora of empty houses will confirm. Nor do you attempt to defend the indefensible inbalance of a community where 2/3 are in the extremely narrow 18-21 age bracket. I take your points about the Welsh government telescoper, and urge you to thrust those criticisms into the corridors of power. But my “factual error” was only failing to add the words “Welsh students” – which I assumed readers would take as read, given I look at everything from a Welsh perspective. I like your eloquent, valedictory paean of praise to the Uni, and quibble in only one regard: you think we’ve arrived already; I think we’ve still not left the starting gate. I most certainly will take you up on your invite to the astronomy department (email me). Can I bring a friend? She’s a 50-something unemployed grandmother on Jobseekers Allowance. She left school at 16 for a succession of lowly office jobs, before life etc took over. Last week we were having a fag in the smoking area of my local when she pointed to the western sky and said “Look, Dickhead, Venus!”, before enlightening me with the names of every visible constellation. Under the status quo she’s got no hope of ever pursuing her love of astronomy, even though she’s precisely the sort of passionate, naturally intelligent, meticulous seeker after knowledge that astronomy, or any discipline, would be fortunate to have. I want a Wales with an education system where there would be nothing to stop anyone following their star, no matter what their age. Chris (also in astronomy – you must know telescoper), you make many astute points about the UK economy, globalisation, science, landlordism and housing, but I can’t let you get away with comparing Wales with Northumbria, Anglo-Saxon since the 8th century, nor with the statement “there has never been an independent Wales” – unless you were to add the words “because the English/British State has spent 1000 years trying to prevent it from happening – yet”.
Typically excellent rant (apart from the Nat stuff, obvs). I love Cathays too, and share your anger at its treatment.
Minor quibble – first para: “phenomenon”, rather than the plural?
Thanks Gez, correction made.
As a student in the university and someone who cares deeply about Cardiff, I find myself agreeing with the broad strokes of your post if not your argument in its entirety. You are being unfair on students and the teaching staff here when you say that “the only education going on is how to get pissed for under a tenner”. I am currently surrounded by the small hills of paper, research material and textbooks I’ve had to go through for this year’s exam period. In amongst this is yet more material I’ve been going through to research the area around Castell Coch, where I’ll be doing a soil and vegetation survey this summer, to be submitted as my dissertation and a report to the Forestry Commission. A further twenty-something people in the second year of my course have been doing the exact same thing, probably pushing the boundaries of cabin fever these past few weeks. You should not belittle the effort made by the majority of students and teaching staff because a minority treats university as a chance to go on a three-year binge.
As to your bemoaning the nationality of the majority of students in Cardiff, I’m afraid it’s inevitable that in an institution 31,000 strong, the Welsh will never be the majority. There simply aren’t enough of us.
However, you are absolutely right when you talk about Cathays. It’s heartbreaking to see the place as it is now, broken under the weight of short-term tenants and unscrupulous landlords. My own experience of private accommodation here has not been a good one, and to be honest, I can’t wait to move on. The street I live on – lined with once-grand three story Victorian townhouses – can be described by a number of adjectives, none of them good.
I think the majority of your problems with the university and its effects on Cathays and the wider Cardiff urban area can, in essence, be boiled down to one issue: Cardiff University, and by extension the student population, is too big. That’s an assertion I would agree with, but I’m afraid given the marketisation of higher education and the vast amounts of money universities can now expect to wring out of each student, that’s not likely to change any time soon.
Cardiff is the capital of delusions of grandeur.
There’s seem to be something in the Cardiff water that everyone there is pretty deluded.
I had to leave my beloved Cathays, and indeed Wales, 20 years ago… Is it truly this awful now?
I hear what the author is saying and whole heartily agree about the rubbish, noise and disturbance students can create. Once being a student myself I am guilty of all these things but in another great city Liverpool.
There are probably in most uni cities an area attracts a higher proportion of students than another area and hence becomes a bit of a student ghetto. Just to add that it’s probably a smaller minority that make all this mess and nonsense and there are a lot of hard working students out there but the few paint a bad picture for the rest.
The landlords and council are partly responsible and need to actively communicate and encourage better ways of doing things and make sure that rules and fines are put in place. I can’t remember a time now when I HAVEN’T walked around Cathays and seen street after street of rubbish strewn everywhere.
Who ends up paying for this? Ultimately the tax-payers of Cardiff and then the reputation of Cardiff itself.
What is the answer? DO we let the students spread out thinner across the whole of the city and bring this disruption to a house near you, or do we leave them all in one cesspit where they can just get on with it?
So yep – there are problems, they aren’t unique to Cardiff, I don’t think the landlords, police and council are doing enough to combat and patrol it but am not really sure what we can do to get the real Cathays back! It’s gone and we just gotta hope that no other area of the city is taken away from us!
Great fun to read. Like a M-60 machine gun fed by unlimited rounds of ammo. Aim is a little fuzzy – hell, no one is safe – but that’s half the point of a good world-to-rights rant.
Speaking to a few locals this week, there was a general sense that the community is in places re-diversifying as families and other non-students ‘recapture’ Cathays, and I was given the impression that relations between students and ‘citizens’ is much-improved in recent years. In short, things are bad but going in the right direction. Tolerance and empathy and respect is key to everyone getting along. Students need to be educated in being socially-responsible and good neighbours.
Private landlords, it must be remembered, are providing a service. Where would all these students live were it not for this rental accommodation? And remote buy-to-letters aside, many landlords are local and even live in Cathays.
Cardiff is all the better for having students. Students want to live in close proximity to their uni and each other (and who can blame them?), so who’s to blame for the natural studentification of Cathays? Aside from Cardiff Uni, I mean.
What? Do you live amongst them? I do and rue the day I foolishly purchased a property here! 15 litter complaints in 5 months!
The situation in Bangor is even worse. In 2011, 39% (11,255) of the total city population of 28,830 were students. This is having a grossly distorting effect on the local housing market not just in Bangor itself but also in adjoining villages. It has become a bloated monster that requires an ever increasing source of sustenance, in the form of students, to sustain it.
I foolishly bought a house in Cathays in 2010 and hope to move next year because of this blight of drunken, litter throwing, entitled t*ts. Well said sir.
Pingback: Cardiff catch-up | Dicmortimer's Blog
Pingback: What’s going on | Dicmortimer's Blog