By Tania Chakraborti
An emergency protest, organised by the group Durham University Students for Reform, is set to take place today against the recently announced rise in college accommodation costs.
Durham University has announced a rise from £7,171 to £7,422 for standard single rooms, with standard self-catered rooms set to cost £5,195 annually, approximately £300 more than last year.
The demonstration is organised to take place at 12:00pm to 13:30pm outside the Bill Bryson Library.
In the event promotion on their Facebook page, the group stated their frustration at increased college accommodation costs: “The arguments the University has put forward to justify this latest rent hike are bogus, as confirmed by the Students’ Union. To protest spiralling college costs at Durham join this student protest…”
In an exclusive statement to Palatinate, Students’ Union President Megan Croll spoke of her stance on the rise in fees: “Nobody should be surprised by the sudden expression of student anger over the out-of-control cost of being a Durham student, and in particular accommodation fees.
“There’s a growing consensus that Durham’s future can’t be built on ever-increasing taxes on the student; my job now is to get University management to accept their responsibility to take widening participation seriously, and drop the cost.
“There’s no point in getting more students here, with a promise of an unrivalled student experience, to base that transformative opportunity on even more fees and charges.”
When asked about the levels of student consultation that took place with the University before the decision to increase costs, Croll stated: “I’m a member of the University’s Scholarship, Fees, and Awards Advisory Group (SFAAG) which is meant to recommend fee levels.
“I was really disappointed last year that an emerging agreement at SFAAG that the cost of Durham was just too high was trumped, and the discussion was taken to the University Executive Committee where there are no student members.
“The University were eager to listen – and I went to UEC to make the case for students – but I was asked to leave the room when the decision was made. That’s consultation, for sure, but it isn’t partnership with students – and I thought that was something Durham prided itself on.”
Regarding the steps the Students’ Union are taking on the matter of accommodation costs, Croll stated: “I’m continuing to meet with the Vice-Chancellor one-on-one to make this case. I’m working to get more students, in more places, to argue for a fairer Durham. Right now, while the protest is taking place, I’m fighting for students rights as the University changes its support structures. I’m sad not to be stood with you but please be assured that I support you fully.”
In a similar reaction to the planned protest, JCR President of St Cuthbert’s Society, Catriona May, described her motivation to join the demonstration: “This is not the Durham that I am proud to be a part of and I hope that the University listens to the student voice tomorrow, as this is our University where our voices must matter.
“These rises are not in line with inflation and we need more transparency about where our money is going before the University prices out students from low-income backgrounds and increases what is already a huge financial pressure for students.”
Meanwhile, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (College and Student Experience), Owen Adams, defended the price changes: “The cost of providing our College residences rises year on year and we have to review prices on an annual basis to ensure we can continue to provide a high standard of accommodation and services.
“In consultation with student representatives, the University has agreed that residence charges will increase by 3.5% for the 2018/19 academic year.
“All students have been informed of our decision and they have also been advised how to access financial support should they need it.
“We strive to offer good value for money to our students. We continue to invest in our colleges to offer an excellent student experience.
“Recent examples of refurbishment projects at our colleges include: a library extension at Josephine Butler, extension and refurbishment of Fountains Hall at Grey, a new gym at Trevelyan and refurbishment of bedrooms in the Pace block at Hatfield.”
More information on college residence fees can be found on the University website.
The protest is taking place today at 12:00pm outside Bill Bryson Library.
Photograph: Barnyz via Flickr and Creative Commons