The Vice-Chancellor has defended plans to centralise the services provided by Durham University colleges, claiming that the University needs to “modernise and enhance facilities and accommodation”.
In reply to a letter sent by the JCR Presidents’ Committee last week, Chris Higgins wrote:
“Any changes are aimed solely at enhanced service provision and value for money for students and the continued development of the distinctive Durham Colleges as educational communities.
“If we do not modernise and enhance our facilities and accommodation services the concerns you express are much more likely to come to the fore – no change is not an option!”
In their letter, the JCR Presidents’ Committee branded the proposals “a significant threat to the collegiate system” and claimed that student consultation had been “entirely disregarded.”
Their letter continued:
“The proposed changes will severely undermine our ability to meet needs and as such, will lead to a ‘halls of residence’ model that would deprive this University of all that makes it so different and so special.”
According to documents obtained by Palatinate, the proposed changes are to occur in two phases, with the first phase engaged in increasing the power of upper University management to review and monitor operations in both Accommodation and Commercial Services and Estates Operations departments.
The documents, known as Briefing 6 and authored by Helen Strangward, Director of Accommodation and Commercial Services and Andy Allison, Assistant Director (Estates Operations), enumerate a new structure for colleges.
According to Briefing 6, Phase 1 will be completed by mid-February, and will include the hiring of new staff in senior management that will then take on responsibilities currently reserved for college staff.
Phase 2, the documents claimed, will consist of a review process to “identify and implement new ways of working and improve flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness.”
The JCR Presidents’ Committee has since replied to the Vice-Chancellor’s defence of the proposals, calling for “clarification” of the potential impact of the proposals.
The level of concern surrounding the plans became evident last week when the Senior Man of University College sent an e-mail to students warning: “If we are unsatisfied with the response from the Vice-Chancellor, we will engage in protest”.
University College’s Senior Man also told students: “The changes will aim to centralise much of the University’s service provision, remove management members of college office, such as the Bursar, and remove budgetary power from the Master”.
Speaking to Palatinate, Steve Hook, Chair of the JCR Presidents’ Committee, said that the proposals are “vague” and “have the potential to become a really big issue” for students.
The Students’ Union has expressed similar concern, stating: “We are urging the University to be much more clear to students, staff and alumni about its plans for the future of colleges.
Students from across Durham have been outraged by the proposals.
George Seeger, a second year at Hatfield College told Palatinate: “I think the plans are dreadful. They will remove a lot of the character from Durham’s colleges”.
Harriet Rawet, a second year student at Cuth’s, argued: “It is frustrating that there has been so little student consultation on an issue that will have a huge impact on students”.
Joe Armstrong, a second year at University College, added to student anger, telling Palatinate: “These proposals are nothing but a cost-cutting exercise that will disadvantage students”.
However, one student who preferred to remain anonymous told Palatinate: “if the University’s proposals will save money then it can only be regarded as a good thing”.
News of the University’s plans to centralise college services comes after the Lloyds Banking Group found that students at Durham enjoy “the best quality of life” in comparison to any other UK students.
Kathryn Turnbull, a student at Trevelyan College, said: “The University’s proposals seem to undermine what is special and unique for students at Durham”.
Consultation with staff ended on the 18th February, with final plans for the future of Durham colleges due to be submitted by the Education Committee in mid-March.
On the subject, University representative Professor Graham Towl, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden said only:
“As a University committed to excellence in education and research, we routinely look at ways of improving our services to our students.
“Currently there is a pan-University review of how we manage accommodation, commercial services and facilities management.
“The University is committed to enhancing the very special benefits which we know being part of a Collegiate University can bring to our students.
“We will be hosting a conference on the Collegiate Way in November which will bring together collegiate universities from around the world to share ideas and best practice.”