"Ninety five % of problems here are caused by students" a speaker at a local neighbourhood meeting proclaims, and I wince. "What about me?" I think. "Or my friends who spend hours on community volunteering projects? Surely we're not part of the problem?"
As students get ready to start or return to universities across the UK, it sometimes seems that towns and cities up and down the country have become entrenched in a narrative that construes 'students' and 'the community' as antithetical and incompatible; two opposing forces ruining or rebuilding neighbourhoods.
Never mind the huge economic contribution that students and universities bring to their areas, and the cultural enrichment that comes with having a diverse, dynamic cohort of students as your fellow residents.
By focusing on a stereotypical, negative view of students in the community, many areas are missing out on the chance to involve active, intelligent people in work that can transform the lives of others.
Deciding to study a particular subject at a higher level doesn't make somebody a 'type' of individual. Your student neighbour will bring with them their own background, motivations and aspirations. She might be an 18 year old moving to a new place for the first time, ready to make her mark or maybe he's a mature student who is keen to share his knowledge with the community he's grown up in. Whatever the situation, it's clear that when towns and cities make the most of the enthusiasm on their doorstep, fantastic things can happen.
Take Leeds as an example. Across the city there are students who have forged links with local charities to address some of our biggest social problems. There are projects helping to connect older people through the use of technology , helping the homeless by volunteering in local shelters and providing affordable transport for asylum seekers. Students are inspiring the next generation of learners by mentoring in local schools, sharing their experiences of higher education to make it a real aspiration.
In many cases students are creating and leading these projects. At Leeds University Union our student fund-raising society recently raised £23,000 for 27 Leeds charities working on initiatives ranging from cultural community centres to support for children with Spina Bifida. Another Leeds University Union scheme runs 14 entirely student-led projects that involve local children and older people.
On top of all this, students are helping to keep neighbourhoods clean with a Leave Leeds Tidy campaign and Knowledge is a project where students keep each other safe. So how, with the impact that all of this voluntary work has on local communities, can anyone maintain that students are a problem to be solved?
Of course I have to acknowledge that there are legitimate grievances in some areas, though these are widely caused less by inconsiderate student neighbours and more by local amenities and services that are not tailored to the needs of residents.
There is also the issue that some local councillors see political capital in pandering to anti-student rhetoric rather than addressing the root causes of problems.
Finally, there is far more that universities, colleges and students' unions can do to promote the great contributions that students make to their cities and towns. Reporting not just volunteer hours and research papers, but also the impact this activity has had on the lives of local people and communities.
We need to relate all this work into a wider social context, making it clear that students are an integral, irreplaceable part of our communities.
Follow Ben Fisher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BenFisher11