Dear University Challenged,
The University of Kent and Christchurch University undoubtedly have a huge economic effect on Canterbury. It is probably true that between them they contribute more to the local economy than anything else.
One might argue that this is undoubtedly a blessing and that we should embrace the universities and their economic contribution with open arms. As with any business we should be enthused by the proposed expansion which will,we are told,bring even greater economic benefits.I do not think it is as simple as that.
The most obvious benefit that the universities bring is the rental income that accrues to the city and its environs as a result of the student numbers. But there are problems with this situation. The first is that the high rental incomes that are generated by students,price out the non student population from the housing market.The second is that the ownership of the housing stock is beginning to pass into the hands of corporate owners and thus the rental income is exported away from the city.
The next benefit of the spending power of the student population is that significant amounts of money are spent in the bars and eateries in the city. Again this is all very fine but a significant proportion of these establishments are owned by large national chains and the money largely goes to shareholders based away from the area. Thus whilst considerable amounts of money are spent as a result of the student body that is based here, it has the effect of pricing the local population out of the housing market and also much of the spend is diverted away from the area to outside beneficiaries.
It is also true that further expansion will not only exacerbate the above situation but that the universities will seek to keep the revenue generated “on campus” so that property revenue will accrue to the university.
The price of these blessings is that we will find that control of large swathes of the city will have passed from our democratically elected council into the hands of the unelected and largely undemocratic control of the universities.
Another product of this expansion will be that we will have frozen out other categories of industry, whose revenue might remain in the area, as there will not be room for others in the land available,unless of course, we develop what is currently open country.
If of course there is a decline in the education market,which is a distinct possibility, we will find ourselves tied to a single industry and will not find it easy to diversify.
I would like to suggest that the overpowering presence of the education establishment has got as large as it should and any further expansion will be shown to be a curse not a blessing.