If there is one truly great thing about Durham (other than grabbing a window seat in the Bill Bryson Library during exam season), it’s student societies. Whether that is your college Junior Common Room and clubs, your Durham University [DU] sport or an expansive university wide society. Those who know me know how much DU Lacrosse and St. Aidan’s College Cricket occupies my heart – which I wear on my sleeve with my stash. For many, societies are the place where you find your life-long friends. They’re wonderful – but I think that they are chronically under-appreciated.
As the newly elected President of Durham Law Society, I’ve been given exposure to what happens under the hood. I know how much value the Law Society gives to people in sterling, hours volunteered, and event organisation. It is a lot. But let me tell you something: Student societies receive absolutely no funding from the University. Absolutely none. While the Law Society is lucky to receive generous funding from sponsors, we – and many other societies – could do so much more with university funding. Instead, we must rely on an under-funded Student Union. Whilst its finance, engagement, and invoicing teams are superb at supporting societies when they need it most, we would all benefit from greater support from the university.
It’s time that the University started showing some appreciation for Durham’s student societies. After all, we are part of the Durham brand. Currently, only £20k is available to the entire student society population. This may seem like a lot but works out at less than £1 per student. Just one pound of your tuition fees goes to societies. Instead of buying up land and trying to build four new colleges, Durham University needs to start paying our fees back to us by supporting our societies. This would benefit everyone for two key reasons.
Firstly, accessibility: Most societies are self-funded through memberships that get more and more expensive each year –because it is simply expensive to run a society. The more the prices rise, the more those who can’t afford steep memberships are excluded. This is fundamentally unfair and could be easily fixed through expansive participation grants from the University. This would allow everyone, no matter where they come from, to enjoy Durham’s fantastic societies.
Secondly, opportunities: Societies should receive funding from the University because they are fundamental to the student experience. More funding would mean more events, more chances to provide benefits to members and cheaper stash – everything that makes a society great. This is particularly true for DU Sports – DU’s elite status attracts many talented students to the University, yet yearly memberships run into the hundreds of pounds. That doesn’t even consider the hidden costs, which are only discovered as the year has begun. The University benefits from DU Sport – so why are memberships so expensive and support so lacking?
At Durham Law Society, we are doing our best to make sure everyone can access our events. All of our events are subsidised, and ticket prices are cut as much as possible. In our last three events, the Law Society picked up 70% of the total event costs. However, not all societies are able to do this – we are one of the biggest societies in Durham. Accessibility and opportunities should be maximised. And so, I ask that the University implements an expansive society support package that reduces financial barriers and makes sure that everyone in Durham can actually enjoy the benefits of all societies. When landlords withhold deposits too often, when rent is higher than London, and when the cost of living is becoming more expensive by the day, you should not have to pay three figure sums extra to access the societies that make Durham, Durham.
Photography by: Mark Norton