Is Residential College Worth It?

Edits by Lily Pang

For interstate and international undergraduate students, attending one of the many Daley Road residential colleges (and Fenner) is a standard beginning of the ANU experience. Coming from places other than Canberra and finding a sharehouse without personal contacts can be a daunting and seemingly impossible task. Colleges are the perfect yet expensive solution to this dilemma for ANU’s nomadic student population.  

The social aspect of colleges is their biggest selling point. Coming to Canberra with only one point of social contact, I found that a group of friends can be fully formed before the end of O-Week, and the vast majority of these friendships can define the rest of your university experience. Whether that is worth $20,000 is debatable, but other than ANU clubs there is little ability for the average student to set themselves up with a social circle within 24 hours of arriving in the capital. 

It is both true and a caricature that ANU colleges differ in experience. All are hard drinking, attract both public and private school students, and all have their fair share of scandals. There are points of difference between them, with Burgmann focusing on the PPE-Law combination and Johns focusing on sporty types. They are also at the time of writing the only two independent colleges, with the rest owned by ANU. 

Pricewise, the ANU has previously ranked highly nationally in its affordability, but as with most things, that era seems to have ended. When I started at ANU, the price for fully catered colleges on a 40-week contract sat at under $20,000. This meant that a student on government assistance with a few shifts a week could just about afford a rental contract. ANU colleges also offer a fraction of the networks and century old buildings that the Sydney and Melbourne colleges build their frankly ridiculous $40,000 plus a year residential contracts on. Student residence fees have only climbed since then, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Sydney and Melbourne colleges are now considered better value than ANU colleges. 

Looking overseas, slightly different residential systems prevail among countries with similar university systems. The United Kingdom has a scaled back and more reserved system, throwing new students into large dormitories with hundreds of students. Without the individualistic cultures of the Australian system’s tighter-knit colleges, UK students typically stay for about a year. The United States has the most foreign system, with students expected to room with a peer in large dormitories for at least 2 years. 

Colleges at ANU are an invaluable social asset that allow the interstate student population to build social networks with reasonable ease. If the current trend of rising prices without providing a corresponding benefit continues, they will become both unaffordable and lacklustre value for money. The colleges must realise that their value and lower-than-average prices provide the ANU with  a competitive advantage. Otherwise, students will go elsewhere and be poorer for it.



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