By Ruby-Rae Cotter
Despite protest from activist groups and campaigns such as #RippedOff, Durham University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Owen Adams announced this week that the college accommodation costs would rise yet again by 3.5% for the academic year 2018/19, in line with the Retail Price Index. For a standard catered room, an undergraduate will be paying £7,422, up from £7,171, whilst a self-catered room will set you back £5,195, up from £4,891. Mr Adams was, however, keen to also state the availability of financial aid such as the Durham Grant.
In an email to students, Mr Adams declared that costs would increase “following consultation with the Students’ Union and Common Room Presidents”. In a statement released by the Students’ Union denouncing the increase in fees, President Megan Croll stated that thanks to the SU, they persuaded the University to implement an “inflationary increase” as opposed to one similar to the 13.41% increase of 2011/12.
According to Megan Croll’s statement, the most worrying aspect of this rise is the fact that it could have been so much worse had it not been for student representatives across the University voicing their disapproval and concern.
In this unsurprising turn of events, Durham University has proven itself to be a business institution, interested only in the money of its white, middle class, privately-educated clientele. The University needs to be held accountable for taking advantage of students from privileged backgrounds, to the point of borderline discrimination against the working class and minority groups this University is so lucky to welcome in.
Without student groups voicing their concern, this could have been much worse
Durham needs to consider the welfare of students and the impact that financial burdens can have on wellbeing. The increase in fees, despite being in line with the Retail Price Index, will have a huge impact on students from working-class backgrounds, and those who do not receive financial aid from their families. In part, this is the fault of Student Finance: whilst additional help is available to those who might need it, it still has to be paid back, thus discriminating against those who need that extra support. With this recent fee increase, it would hardly be surprising to see a decline in the diversity of students that Durham attracts.
There are other factors that need to be addressed, however, whether at a national level or at Durham alone, such as the cost of siblings: whilst only marginal, there are siblings attending university simultaneously. These students receive no extra support, and their families are expected to compensate for inadequate student finance each year. Imagine being a parent of triplets, each of whom is attending university at the same time, and each on minimum loan. No extra support is to be seen, and it is expected of those families to support each equally.
Another factor not considered is the average loan of a Durham University student: attracting bright, well-off young people, often from public school backgrounds, many are on the minimum loan at just over £3,500. The extortionate cost of accommodation would see these students facing the daunting challenge of requesting a minimum of £1,600 from their parents just to cover rent, not including living costs. Whilst these students may choose to go for cheaper accommodation, such as that in Josephine Butler College, this is not guaranteed due to the system of reallocation: imagine applying to Butler and ending up at University College, with the prospect of fees surpassing £7,000. Where does one find an extra £4,000?
This move could make Durham even less diverse
As students, we are legally adults and meant to be living independently within the world of higher education. We live away from home, apply for student finance, and take on the burden of debt in order to obtain a university degree. And yet Durham University decides to take advantage of us: we are forced to rely on financial help from our family, or other sources, just to pay the rent. That, or face the prospect of not attending university at all.
Of course, this is also a problem at a national level and needs to be urgently addressed by our government. But the likelihood of that happening anytime soon does not look good. Durham University, if they are as committed to their student body as they say they are, should take immediate action to reform costs so to attract the diversity and respect the equality they set out in their ethos policy.
Durham University is no longer an elite higher education system, but a business. And yet, it is a business that has no concern for its customers or their wellbeing, but purely concerns themselves with the extortion of money from students and their generous families in order to aid such activities as funding external sources instead of putting money back into JCRs and accommodation resources. There is no transparency to the way that Durham University budgets their costs, and so students are left in the dark and are vulnerable to the university’s money-grabbing.
In short, Durham has proven itself to be one thing: a shameful and discriminatory institution, and one that I would not recommend to any future university student.
Photograph: Ruby-Rae Cotter