University Responses to Consultation: Statement

The team behind the Alternative Durham Open Days strongly condemns the University’s responses to a student survey conducted by Durham Students’ Union. The responses can be found here.

Despite concerted student pressure led by Durham Left Activists and the dialogue undertaken by the DSU, the University still refuses to respond to concerns surrounding the upcoming 3.5% rise in College fees for the next academic year. The rise will mean that most students will pay around or above £7,000 a year to live in College. We demand that College fees are frozen at their present level for the next two academic years.

As well as being disappointed at the University refusing to consider the prospect of freezing College fees for the next two years, we also have a number of concerns about the details of the responses.

Firstly, the university suggests it is looking to increase the amount of financial support available to disadvantaged students. Whilst any increase in financial support is welcome, the Vice-Chancellor, in response to the Funeral For Accessible Education in December, suggested that any increase would only apply to students with a household income of below £26,500. However, this is less than the national average income for one person, so significant numbers of students facing difficulties in paying College accommodation charges will not be helped by the extra funding. We believe a freeze in accommodation cost for all students at 2015/16 prices for two years is the only way of ensuring that all students can afford to live in College.

Additionally, in a response to a suggestion that the University’s pricing strategy is putting up rents in Durham City, the University asserts that ‘supply and demand in the private sector will play a role in determining rent levels in Durham City’. However, the University is the largest landlord in Durham, and so plays a significant role in determining the price levels of private rented accommodation in Durham City. The University’s refusal to admit to its role in pushing up the cost of housing for all students is highly unsatisfactory.

The University goes on to argue that ‘We think the model of consultation trialed this year is a step in the right direction.’ However, we query this. How can a consultation that shows the deep-seated anger of students, both in elected and non-elected roles, which fails to see anything be done about the spiraling cost of College accommodation be ‘a step in the right direction’?

The document shows in full the University’s attitude to its student body. Rather than listen to their legitimate concerns, it ignores them, and leaves hundreds of current and prospective students facing the prospect of being unable to live in College.

This is unacceptable. The Alternative Durham Open Days are a response to the unwillingness of the University to listen to its students. They are an action of last resort, not designed to discourage potential students from applying, but to show the depth of feeling on this issue and on the other issues at this university, which you can read in our Alternative Prospectus.

If you’d like to help us in doing this, please sign up to be an Alternative Open Day Ambassador  or contact us here.

Durham University: A Fantastic Record of Access – Soon To Be Made Even Better

Durham University. An institution renowned for its inclusivity. I am sure you are aware of the reputation we pride ourselves on. And just look around you. You’ll see students from all walks of life – households earning £100,000, households earning £90,000, sometimes households earning even £80,000! Yes, we here at Durham pride ourselves on our incredible access record. With over 40% of our population coming from just private school, and fifth in the country for such, we think we are exceeding the conditions to improve access put to us when we raised our tuition fees to £9000 in 2010.
And things are about to get a whole lot better!
The University has just held a full consultation(!) with its student body, and after much deliberation, have decided to raise accommodation fees to just £7000. How generous are we? This should be fine for students on the low-incomes of £80,000!
And just look at our decimation of the Durham Grant! It used to be £3000, with £2000 for the next tier income; now that latter tier is completely gone, and we’ve decreased the £30000 grant by a £1000! This shouldn’t have any mitigating problems in the future, especially not with the government completely abolishing the maintenance grant that was the bloodline of the poorest students in Britain. And fear not! We were going to decrease it even more! But, at the last minute, our generosity kicked in. Your £2000 is safe, Oliver Twist!
We’ve also made it clear that we would happily exploit the uncapping of fees in the last Budget, meaning we can raise even more in tuition fees. And this time, there’s not even any conditions on improving access to do so.
And what will all this extra revenue go to? Sorry, what was that, grants? No, silly. It will go to that immaculate art exhibition in the Palatine Centre. Shiny, huh? Our students love it!
With all these great reforms, we sure look forward to more participation from the poorest in society! So come along to Durham. The 125th most inclusive University in the country!


Unfortunately, almost an entire page could be made into a parody, trying to laugh off this University’s woeful record with disadvantaged students, and its continued support for policies that will only further shame it – and it believes it will never have to be held accountable. Not anymore. The great people behind this prospectus, and the various groups working with them, are demanding change. If you read this and feel yourself seething with the same anger we do, question it, and question them. Question if this is the inclusive learning environment it is painted to be. Question what they are selling you.

Durham University Labour Club are working alongside others to do just that, and we are demanding change with a plan for action.
We are demanding, among other things:
• A target for a 70:30 ratio of state/private school students
• Demanding transparency over accommodation fees
• The full restoration of the Durham Grant
• Rejecting future tuition fee increases
• Regular consultations with low-income students

None of these things should be hard. This University continues to wield plenty of cash, certainly enough to pay the Vice Chancellor the third highest wage in the country.

The situation in Durham is no joke. We have to demand they take this seriously.

Sexual Assault in Durham: It Happens Here

We’re at a tipping point. UK university culture and society in general is seeing a growing awareness of sexual violence that simply did not exist a few years ago. At Durham University, the introduction of It Happens Here in 2012 was the first time the student body had really tried to talk about sexual violence. We emerged as a campaign to raise awareness, and four years later, we think we’re getting somewhere.

You’ve probably heard the statistics before, but they’re worth repeating. One in seven female students is a victim of serious sexual or physical assault. One in four is a victim of sexual violence in general. Ten percent of these students have reported the assault to the police, and only four percent to their university. In addition to this, 20% of UK women over the age of 16 have experienced sexual violence. Three out of every twenty men have been victims, too.

So, what’s the University currently doing about this? Well, some colleges, like Van Mildert, have been incredibly receptive to our consent workshops. Their president of last year even wrote a blog post on our website about them. Last year, the Castle Lecture Series hosted Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino, cofounders of End Rape on Campus, for one of their events. And most importantly, the University recently launched its Sexual Violence Task Force, a move that instilled a new level of hope in all of us that something was finally being done on an institutional level. Well, almost. Since its introduction, at the time of writing, we haven’t heard very much from the Task Force. Its webpage is tucked away in the corner of the University’s website, and is the only mention of sexual violence on there. We like to think that the Task Force will engage in some more self-promotion next year, potentially asking It Happens Here to weigh in on its ideas and policies, and generally engage with the student body more to get things done.

It Happens Here is a relatively new group in Durham. Nevertheless, we have huge aims. Our first goal is for a transparent sexual violence policy. A clear policy is something that should interest the University and its students alike. As well as providing a better procedure for dealing with victims of sexual violence, it might too offer ways of dealing with the perpetrators. Our second aim is for better signposting for those seeking support, and our third is for mandatory training for members of staff, particularly those whose jobs require a degree of pastoral care. We believe that staff and administrators have a responsibility to promote a safe environment. They must ensure survivors feel supported in coming forward; have clean, streamlined policies that are easily accessible; offer mental health and psychiatric services; and engage in an active, on-going conversation with students.

That we still have these goals is a reflection of how much the University still needs to do. Durham might market itself as a ‘safe place’, but only without taking into account the significant rates of sexual violence that it experiences. Universities all around the country suffer with this problem, which is why the statistics are nationwide. But Durham could be doing so much more. It should be able to offer its prospective students safety, education and support. It should be holding consent workshops at least as regularly as it holds fire safety talks. We hope that our student campaign, however small it may be, can continue to work with the University and the Sexual Violence Task Force to provide a safer and more reliable space in which to study and live.

For more information on It Happens Here and what we do, please find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or visit our website.

The Durham Divest Campaign

Divestment: The removal of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.

People and Planet is currently running the Durham Divest campaign. Why? Durham University currently has £1.5 million invested in fossil fuel companies. Global temperatures are rising, and will soon surpass the 2°C level, which equates to catastrophic climate change. In order to prevent this, we need to keep 80% of our known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Fossil fuel companies are largely ignoring this target.

We, as a progressive, forward thinking university body, need to help stop this from happening. Desmond Tutu – no less – has said that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” By divesting we are breaking our ties with the industry, proving that we do not think what they are doing is morally acceptable.

This is a global movement – with more than 220 institutions divesting in one form or another. In the UK, this includes universities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, Warwick and Sheffield. By following the trend, we can really make a difference. Like Durham, these universities have fossil-fuel-sponsored courses (Warwick, for example,has the BP Archive on campus as well as multi million pound research projects with BP and Shell) which have been untouched following the divestment movement. A 2013 study by the Aperio Group said economic risks of divesting from fossil fuel companies in the Russell 3000 Index are ‘statistically irrelevant’. Similarly for Durham, there won’t be any financial hardship for the university as a result of divesting. This really is a no-brainer for the university.

Durham University and Durham City

Durham University is an elite institution with an affluent student body situated in one of the poorest regions of the UK. The University claims it seeks to have a positive impact on the surrounding area as a source of employment, income and innovation. But how true is this? Does Durham University practice what it preaches?

Student numbers have increased continuously in recent years and are set to increase even more dramatically under a new Academic Strategy. In addition, roughly 2,000 student places are going to be relocated to Durham city as the University’s Stockton campus is phased out.

The effect of rising student numbers has been to increase competition for houses in the city centre. Simultaneously, spiralling college rents have had a knock-on effect on rent levels charged by private landlords. Private rents have doubled in some neighbourhoods in recent years but still undercut the rents charged by the University to students who live in colleges.

The combined effect of rising student numbers and spiralling rents has been to drive permanent residents from the city centre, destroying community life in parts of Durham. Neighbourhoods that were mixed or residential 10-15yrs ago have become dominated by students, creating a further incentive for residents to move out. These neighbourhoods are now dead half the year outside of term times. Meanwhile, landlords are not interested in maintaining properties fit for long-term occupation and focus instead on making a ‘quick buck’ from overcrowded student lets.

Durham’s residents are overwhelmingly pleased to share their city with a vibrant student population. But decay of Durham’s housing stock combined with the loss of community life in much of the city centre has been a cause of resentment directed at the University.

Durham University runs frequent consultations with students and academic staff on major decisions, but the impact of these consultations on eventual policy is often unclear. During recent consultations on the University’s new Academic Strategy, the review of the University’s Stockton campus and the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor (all within the past 2 years) student campaigners argued that the University’s current policy of increasing student numbers in the city centre and jacking-up college rents was hurting both students and residents. Not only did the University not listen, it also revealed that it would not consult with any local residents on these issues with major implications for life in the area, with one University official saying it “did not concern them”.

Not only are local residents external to the University excluded from its consultations – students and staff alike were shocked to learn in 2014 that non-academic staff, namely the University’s cleaners, porters and security workers, would not be consulted on the recruitment of the new Vice-Chancellor by the private agency hired by the University to carry out this process.

The University also seeks to build links with the wider region by extending preferential offers to pupils in certain local schools which can be a means of promoting accessibility of higher education in disadvantaged communities. However, head teachers discussing with student activists during previous open days have explained how many school leavers receive these preferential offers, want to accept them and get the grades, but have to turn them down because the high cost of college rents makes it impossible for them to study at Durham.

As long as Durham University continues to jack-up rents it is choosing to remain a University exclusively for the rich and affluent.

In 2012, Durham academic Pr Ray Hudson co-authored a report entitled ‘How can universities support disadvantaged communities?’ (available online). The report argued that by paying all employees a Living Wage, universities can have a tangible positive impact in surrounding communities. The Living Wage, currently defined by the Living Wage Foundation at £8.25/hr, is a wage rate higher than the minimum wage and is calculated as the minimum required for a worker to sustain themselves and their family in dignity. At the time, Durham University did not pay a Living Wage to roughly 500 of its employees. These employees were again overwhelmingly cleaners and security staff who are likely to be long-term residents in the region.

The Living Wage Campaign has operated in Durham for 5yrs, but the University has continuously resisted becoming a Living Wage employer, including during 2014-2015 when Pr Hudson was acting Vice-Chancellor. In contrast, new rotas and conditions now threaten to axe the hours and overtime and holiday pay of many of the low-paid workers concerned.

Durham University claims it is an asset to the region when promoting itself to outsiders. But in Durham, the sense that the University treats its local community with indifference or derision is acute. The toxic atmosphere this creates is bad for everyone: students, staff and local residents. Creating a more open and democratic University should involve both students and residents which would have an uplifting effect on our community of our beautiful city.

The Alternate Prospectus

Featured

The Alternative Durham Open Days will run alongside the official Durham University Summer Open Days, on 27th June and 2nd July. They are being organised by a coalition of student groups, associations and societies, alongside TU branch Durham Unite Community and other local grassroots activists. The demands of this action are that both college accommodation fees and international fees be fixed at the level of this year (2015/16), followed by a two year freeze on each.

  • An online Alternative Durham Prospectus has been launched, including endorsements from notable Durham alumni. It highlights issues such as:
  • High college accommodation fees and international fees and their detrimental effects on accessibility, diversity and local communities
  • Issues of student safety
  • The University’s poor sexual assault policy
  • The University’s refusal to pay all its staff a living wage
  • The University’s investment in fossil fuel companies and arms manufacturers

This action builds on years of escalating student protest at Durham, including opposition to the fee hikes from the Student Union and college representatives. Durham students’ ‘Funeral for Accessible Education’ in November gained national media attention, and involved over 300 students.

Organisers have been clear that this action is a last resort. Should the University meet these demands, the Alternative Open Days will not go ahead. They are also keen to emphasise that their goal is not to actively discourage potential students from applying.

You can read the prospectus here: