Almost 400 unoccupied beds in Durham-owned college accommodation


A Freedom of Information Request by Palatinate has revealed that there are almost 400 unoccupied beds across University-owned college accommodation, which is equivalent to the size of St Mary’s College’s accommodation.

This comes after a previous Palatinate investigation found that 970 returning students were unable to secure college accommodation for this academic year. This data does not include Ustinov College, which currently has 31 unoccupied beds.

According to Palatinate’s calculations, this accounts for a shortfall of approximately £3 million of potential income for the University. In 2022/23, the University received around £55 million in income from “Residences, Catering and Conferences”, according to its financial report.

A Durham University spokesperson explained that the University tries “to minimise the number of unoccupied beds as far as is possible.”

Van Mildert College has the most unoccupied beds, totalling 70, whilst Hatfield College has the least, with only 3 unoccupied beds. This comes after Van Mildert closed one of its accommodation blocks, Derwent, to reduce energy bills and carbon footprint. However, the accommodation block only has around 55 rooms, Palatinate previously reported

This means that 16% of Van Mildert’s accommodation is currently unoccupied. Despite this, out of the 93 students who applied for returner accommodation for 2023/24, 22 were rejected.

Talking to Palatinate, a Durham University spokesperson explained that “Colleges’ differing make-up of accommodation means they can offer different numbers of returner rooms and demand for returner rooms can also differ across Colleges.

“When there is a greater expression of interest from returning students than beds available, each College has a clear and transparent process in place for allocating those beds”

Six colleges had over 30 unoccupied beds: St Hild & St Bede, Josephine Butler, St Aidan’s, Stephenson, Ustinov, and Van Mildert. Among these, Josephine Butler and St Aidan’s were the two most oversubscribed colleges for returning students in 2023/24. 

Palatinate previously found that 280 students were rejected from accommodation in Josephine Butler, but there are now 40 spare beds in the College. Similarly, 76% of students in St Aidan’s College who applied for returner accommodation were rejected, totalling to 155 students. However, Palatinate has now found that there are 55 unoccupied beds in the College. 

76% of students in St Aidan’s College who applied for returner accommodation were rejected, totalling to 155 students – there are now 55 unoccupied beds in the College

13% of beds in St Aidan’s and 11% of St Hild & St Bede are unoccupied, despite both being oversubscribed for returner accommodation this year. On the other hand, in Hatfield College, Grey College, and St Cuthbert’s Society, 99% of accommodation is occupied, with only 3, 5, and 7 empty beds respectively in each college. 

A Durham University spokesperson explained, “College bed allocation planning takes place each academic year and is based primarily on our best estimate of incoming student numbers. The University guarantees that all first-year undergraduate students and many incoming postgraduate students who wish to live in College can do so. Remaining College accommodation is then offered to returning students.

“Each year College beds become occupied for a number of factors including those allocated to students who do not arrive to take up their place or those who leave the University during the academic year.”

This comes in spite of the University’s goals to increase the number of students staying in University-owned accommodation. In 2022/23, 39% of students lived in University-owned or managed accommodation, but the University plans to increase this to 45% by 2027/28.


2 thoughts on “Almost 400 unoccupied beds in Durham-owned college accommodation

  • What you don’t acknowledge is the impact of student accommodation on the city. Accommodation for people who are not students (whether singles or families) has disappeared over the last fifty years. Unless you can afford housing within the city or reasonably-distanced environs of the city you are unable to live where you work because the university and its students have priced out all others. Fifty years ago the university was around 7000 students …..what is it now? The university is too large for the City of Durham.

  • This is unacceptable, unfair on students and shows things are badly managed. What a waste!


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