By Laetitia Eichinger and Lizzie McBride
College accommodation costs continue to follow a seemingly never-ending upward trend. Next academic year, the cost of a standard 39-week lease for a catered college room will surpass the £8000 mark for the first time ever, rising to £8301. This marks an increase of 4.1% from this year’s costs. The government, however, is only increasing student maintenance support by 2.3%, which amounts to a real cut of 7% when inflation is accounted for.
This comes amidst simultaneously soaring private rental prices for student properties in Durham City. Palatinate found direct evidence of several homes that were being advertised for significantly higher amounts of rent for the 2022/2023 academic year than for this academic year. One Claypath home let by Bill Free Homes was advertised for £145 pppw, up from £130 pppw this year. Palatinate’s data showed that, at the peak of housing rush season, there were only 15 houses on the market costing less than £80 pppw.
The University published its medium-term development plan, or ‘ten-year strategy’, in 2017. It notably featured an “Estate Masterplan”, the most significant goal of which is the development of “four to six new colleges” by 2027. This expansion will, the University hopes, enable more than half of students to live in college accommodation by the same year.
However, a Palatinate Freedom of Information request previously uncovered that the percentage of students living in college accommodation has actually been on a steady downwards trajectory since the 2016/2017 academic year. The percentage of undergraduate students living in college accommodation fell from 43% to 35% over this time period.
Palatinate has also been able to report on the concerns of local residents over Durham becoming “saturated” by a student body which has rapidly expanded particularly in recent years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant that larger numbers of students than ever before qualified to study at Durham. The Gilesgate Residents Association explained that, “To ensure a balanced community, it is estimated that no more than 30% of students should live out.” “Residents deeply regret the current failure of the University to achieve the aim of 50% of students living in college.”
Whilst the University “reviews” its strategy and the “existing plans and timescales for developments and refurbishments” in light of the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and as college accommodation prices continue to rise, it appears unlikely that there will be any significant increase in the number of students living in college accommodation.
Hild Bede freshers will be housed over two sites next year, as the Leazes Road will be partially closed for refurbishment.
Some new students will be accommodated in New Kepier Court, which will be shared with Castle students, while the rest will be housed in Ernest Place: a private accommodation block in Gilesgate, located a 25 minute walk away from the main site.
All accommodation for freshers will be self-catered, rather than catered as Hild Bede accomodation usually is.
For returning students who want to live in college accommodation, the College of St Hild and St Bede is planning to make some rooms available at Ernest Place and New Kepier Court.
These residences are managed by private sector providers, however the college say that they will “support students living there with regular support drop-ins, and other onsite activities as well as providing contact in our offices at the Riverside site.”
A group of Hild Bede students started an Instagram account called “bleedhildbede” in which they laid out their concerns that possible closure of social spaces such as the bar, common room, and sports facilities would have on the college experience.
All current facilities will still be available until the end of Easter term 2022. The University claims that they are “working on plans to ensure all members of Hild Bede can still access a range of facilities on site while much needed improvements and additions are made to our College accommodation.”
They say that they expect to provide some core facilities on site next year, anticipating that these will include the Joachim Room and Gym.
Durham say that they have University Executive agreement there will be no redundancies across teams as a direct result of the planned relocation and development work of the college.
The University claims that “the aim of the College is to ensure that everything from sports and societies, to formals and events continues, with an alternative approach being adopted where needed.”
As part of the 2017-2027 ‘University Strategy’ Durham stated that they were planning to invest “heavily” in refurbishing their existing Colleges and establishing four to six new Colleges.
However, the University has claimed that the pandemic has meant that Durham is “needing to review” its strategy and the “existing plans and timescales for developments and refurbishments.”
Only one of at least four planned new colleges has been completed – South. The College of St Hild and St Bede on the Leazes Road site was originally identified as an area of developmental potential. However, no concrete plans have been anounced for the construction of colleges there.
Image: Thomas Tomlinson