Stockton Campus, from Giving New Leaf to Post-Industrial Teeside to What?  

Queen’s Campus, Stockton, is where Durham University’s Medicine programme, among other things, is based. This year, the University announced that the operation would be shut down, with most courses relocating to Durham and the site being turned into an International Foundation centre.

The first intake of students Stockton-on-Tees campus ever had was in 1992. Since then, as a working paper from UCL shows, the campus in itself has developed impressive strengths in Medical science, Business and Environmental Sciences altogether. The idea that led the campus to be built was, in an age where education became a necessity for working conditions, to accept over-25 students that were suddenly cut off from the job market by the forced deindustrialisation of the Thatcher government. At that time, to increase student numbers was a necessity for management to shelter itself from redundancies. The site itself was inaugurated by the Queen in 1993 as University Campus Stockton (UCS). It was realised in collaboration between the University, the local authority and a development corporation. After an initial period of uncertainty (it is reported that of the first intake of students, less than 85% continued in Stockton Campus), further funding from the EU and private investors, majorly the Wolfson Fund, have made it possible for the campus to flourish. As many of the spaces aimed at the campus redevelopment are empty and as the NHS has agreed a £5 million grant in 2014 to expand the research facilities, the University has recently unveiled plans to move the two colleges, Stephenson and Snow, to the central campus in Durham.

This risks to end the story of an attempt by previous University administrations to engage purposefully with an area that in the 1990s was blighted by a 20% higher than national average mortality rate, high crime rate and low tertiary education attainment. Those goals were largely unattained by 2014, but at the time, acting Vice Chancellor Ray Hudson believed that it was worth it to keep trying and to invest in partnerships with major industries to achieve those objectives and to fulfil the vision of a campus that would act as a kick-starter for a variety of degrees not necessarily fitting the university Curriculum stereotype. Recent plans unveiled as moving the two colleges to Durham and transforming the entire campus into an International Foundation college seem, in my opinion, to go far from the original intent. But a stable 2000 graduates, of whom 45% from the local area (a percentage that is indeed higher than in any single Durham college), is an achievement that cannot be ignored. Engaging non-traditional groups, such as former workers and people that come from a problematic background, is something that would indeed be more difficult when the entire campus is due to be refashioned as an international foundation college.

In this regard, I can weight two different assessments coming from local politicians. Stockton Council Leader Bob Cook (Labour) claimed in the Northern Echo that “the university has put significant investment into creating superb facilities here and its commitment to maintaining a strong international presence in Stockton is clear recognition of their quality” (10/5/2016). However, in a personal email exchange I had with Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham, he said, and I quote “I share your [Durham University Students’] concerns but sadly the ship has left port and the final decision has been taken with the colleges moving to Durham and a new international foundation college established on the site – well that’s the plan”. He also added “I did meet with the VC but it’s clear there is no retreat from the decision.  A sad business all round – and a blow for Stockton as a whole”.

As students that are approaching a big event, the Alternative Open Days, I think we should reckon the disappointment many of us would have that the University has so little faith in the local area and its inhabitants. As a European Student that will be graduating in two days in BA Philosophy and Politics, I am ashamed. In the turn of a month, not only has the north east lost Europe as a source of redevelopment and funding, but it also has seen one of its major powerhouses probably shutting its doors to local development.

Sources:

I want to thank Alex Cunningham MP for sharing his concerns with me

Graheme Hetherington, Plans revealed for Future of Durham University’s Queen’s campus in Stockton  http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/14483374.Plans_revealed_for_future_of_Durham_University_s_Queen_s_Campus_in_Stockton/

Dr. Clare Melhuish, “CASE STUDY 1: Queen’s Campus: Durham University in Stockton, widening access to higher education on a brownfield site”, University College London Working Paper, September 2015

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Students Protest College Fees – Again!

On Monday in the early afternoon, a collection of undergrad and postgrad students assembled outside the Bill Bryson Library to continue their campaign for accessible education.

Fronted by Durham Left Activists, the protest took place after Durham University’s continued refusal to fully address the concerns of escalating accommodation and international fees. Armed with banners and a trusty megaphone, the students made their voices heard through a series of chants, proceeding through the Palatine Centre to directly engage the attention of the university staff.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the action came not from the chorus of angry voices, however, but rather the power and passion of the isolated few. Delivered both outside the Bill Bryson and inside the Palatine Centre, members of the protest and the Student Union gave speeches which hammered home the true injustices of the university’s actions.

They touched on the university’s 20% rise in accommodation fees over the past three years – seeing the average college room rise over £7000, potentially barring students from lower income backgrounds – but also other effects and issues of equal importance. The soaring college prices go hand in hand with the private rent sector, meaning the local residents of Durham are increasingly pushed out of their own town centre and surrounding areas due to extortionately high housing prices. The university fails to pay all their staff a living wage, yet continually invests in artwork and fossil fuel companies. In many cases college rooms are simply just substandard, with infestations, collapsing ceilings and as many as twelve people to one shower.

As the protest drew to a close, it was clear that the students of Durham were not content to settle for the condescension and mediocrity of the university’s prior responses. They did not call for compromise, but instead would accept nothing less than their goal of a more equality-driven and fairer institution. Looking on to the Alternative Open Days, the protest served as a not-so-quiet reminder that students were not only still furious, but planned to do something about it.

Financial Accounts and College Fees

Durham University’s latest financial accounts leave the University with serious questions to answer on the spending of college fees.

They reveal that, thanks to large rises in college fees over recent years, the University received an income of over £40m from what it terms ‘residences, catering and conferences’.

However, the accounts also reveal that the University spent only £24.6m on the staff and other costs of the services in colleges, despite an email sent to all students which explained rises in college fees for the year 2016/17 suggesting that operational costs were around £28m just for colleges and catering.

Overall, the University posted a surplus of over £20m. Turnover reached £320m, a £70m rise on just four years ago.

The university therefore has questions to answer:

  • Why, when it has the information, is this buried opaquely on the financial statements rather than being out in the open?
  • Why is there the discrepancy between the figure published in the accounts and that which was sent to students?
  • Why does the University see fit to levy such a large amount to stay in College when it spends so much less than what it earns from colleges?
  • Why, when the University posts such a significant surplus, does it see fit to dramatically raise accommodation fees?
  • Will the University commit to releasing a detailed breakdown of College costs, with exact costs made clear in understandable language? If not, why not?

In the foreword to the financial statements, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, trumpets Durham’s accessibility. He suggests that “We also continue to… enhance access to Durham for the most able and motivated students from all backgrounds.” These increasingly feel like empty words. How can a University which chooses to charge residence fees above the reach of so many students despite making a £20m surplus in just one year claim to be accessible or ethical?

 

 

Racial Microagressions at Durham

Scenario 1: my flatmates and I chat about relationships over the dinner table, and the subject turns to interracial dating.

“I don’t think I could date a fully Asian guy because I just don’t find them attractive,” one flatmate chirps, “but when they’re half Asian and half white I think they’re gorgeous.”

I stop smiling and focus on the plate of food in front of me. To my surprise, the rest of my flat responds with enthusiastic affirmations of her statement.

“And I always wanted a mixed-race baby,” another one chimes in, “they’re just so much cuter!”

More excited agreement follows and the conversation continues. I, the only mixed-race member of an otherwise all-white flat, squirm uncomfortably and retreat further into my pasta.

 

Scenario 2: my college mentor gives me a bemused look over his cup of coffee. He’s just made a joke about having ‘the most exotic mentor group in Durham’ due to his abnormally large number of black and Asian mentees. I have asked him to refrain from using the term.

“But why?” he laughs. I laugh too.

“Because pets are exotic. Plants are exotic. People are not exotic.”

“If you say so, but I always thought exotic was a rather lovely term.”

I remain smiling, but wince internally as he continues its use for the rest of our conversation.

 

Scenario 3: I’m sat in my English Lecture on Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, attempting to repress an encroaching sense of anger. My lecturer has, and is continuing to, explicitly state that Rhys’ novel is pro-black and calls for the complete equality of all ethnicities.

As he resumes his spiel on the ‘danger of racial labels,’ I wonder whether he remembers the frequency with which Rhys refers to black features as ugly, or the mob of black people who burn down the heroine’s home, killing her disabled brother. I am almost impressed at his ability to evade the presentation of mixed-race characters as figures of both pagan and biblical betrayal, of almost supernatural malice, cruelty and apathy. I would perhaps be more generous towards the ideas of my lecturer if he had not earlier this month asserted that, in the Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad regards the African Tribesmen as his social equals.

Later that day, I redraft my essay on Wide Sargasso Sea and delete its relevant sections on racism. I know that if I include them, I run the risk of damaging my grade.

 

As an expectant Fresher back in October, if someone had informed me that I would encounter situations similar to that of the first scenario, I would hardly have been surprised. The warning may have been met with a sigh or small groan of some form, but I was perfectly aware that- whether in Durham, Edinburgh, or probably even Denmark- I would encounter unintentional micro-aggressions from my peers that would be directed towards myself or other people of colour. What I did not expect, however, was the alarming number of problems with how, not students, but qualified academics and other university employees have handled the topic of race.

Don’t get me wrong, a fair few student encounters leave a lot to be desired: I’ve had people approach me on nights out purely because they have a ‘thing for brown girls;’ strangers plunge their hands into my natural hair without even so much as asking permission to do so; one fully black friend was told that black people were indistinguishable from one another. But somehow, the dismissive attitude that Durham University’s English department often adopts towards racial issues smacks of a disappointment no casual exchange could ever rival. These professors are brilliant intellectuals, often leaders in their field: I’ve had lectures on how language implicitly upholds patriarchal structures, and how one might go about deconstructing them. In tutorials, I’ve had lengthy discussions about internalised classism and its consequences. Yet where the department seems to be so beautifully synched with the intricacies of feminist and socialist thought, it often falls flat with the anti-racism movement. It could be that, as a first year, my perceptions stem from limited experience and misfortune. However, to me it appears that the racial standpoint of literary texts is denied the acknowledged complexity of other themes, reduced merely to pro-colonial = prejudice, anti-colonial = total equalitarian view.

I’m not asking my lecturers to do a full Achebe and brand authors as ‘bloody racists.’ I’m not asking them to spurn specific texts due to less-than-savoury representations of people of colour. What I’m asking is for them to appreciate that racial prejudices aren’t obliterated in one radical motion, but rather dismantled bit by bit: in the cases of Conrad or Rhys, a person can have sympathy towards a marginalised group whilst still thinking themselves superior. These problematic viewpoints don’t make the text any less brilliant in its literary craft, but on the contrary enhance it all the more: they can offer insight into the cultural context of the time, mapping the process and progress of thought throughout English Literature.

Since coming to Durham, the quality of education I’ve received from the English department has been for the most part spectacular. All I request is that the incredible insight into texts extends past a predominantly white perspective, into the multicultural analysis that modern day academia demands. Until then, you’ll find me at the back of my lectures, simmering with a quiet disappointment.