By Jack Parker
Durham University has set out its plans to enable students to return for their belongings in private and college accommodation, sparking confusion and accusations of “U-turning” on previous information in the process.
In an email sent to all students on Friday evening (22nd May), the University said that students who privately rented accommodation and who are planning to return to Durham for their belongings are “strongly advised” to do so in line with government advice, adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Those who lived in college accommodation have been asked to book a collection slot from Wednesday 27th May onwards. The University has imposed a deadline of Friday 10th July for students to return for their belongings.
The email stresses that if possessions are not collected by that deadline, “then the University will consider your belongings abandoned and will dispose of them.” Students facing exceptional circumstances preventing them from meeting this deadline have been told to directly contact the University.
The new plans were prepared in line with the latest government advice for universities, recommending that they develop procedures to allow students to collect their belongings in a “safe and managed way, that protects their health and that of the university and other staff.”
The University will dispose of any uncollected belongings
The email suggests that anyone who is unable to physically return to Durham before the deadline, particularly international students who have now returned home, may wish to use a courier service to retrieve their belongings.
Although the email says that the University does not endorse any specific courier service, and that students are free to use whichever service they wish, it provided details for Lovespace, a private, London-based storage and shipping company – but their services cost hundreds of pounds.
According to the University’s website, the total cost of packing up a student’s room with Lovespace is £225, including boxes and other supplies.
Five medium boxes (each weighing up to 25kg) can be shipped domestically for a cost of around £85. Shipping those five boxes internationally, with China as the given example, would cost an estimated £230, excluding packing materials. The company includes £100 worth of insurance coverage per box free of charge, but only for international shipments.
The University will dispose of any belongings uncollected either in person or via a private courier before the 10th July.
Many students have been left confused by the email
Many students have been left confused by the email, arguing that disposing of “abandoned” belongings contradicts earlier communication from the University.
The ‘Consent to Terminate [Licence] Agreement and Pack up Room’ form, which has been live on the University’s website since the 23rd April, assured any student who left belongings behind in their college room that their “possessions will be covered under [their] policy for an unlimited period of time during the policy period.”
Palatinate understands that no Common Room Presidents were consulted by the University in the preparation of these plans.
The content and timing of the email – 8pm on the Friday before a Bank Holiday weekend – have been criticised by students and student body representatives.
Caragh Evans, JCR President of Collingwood College, told Palatinate: “I think a few things weren’t thought through properly and that would be due to a lack of proper student consultation.
“Students seem to be expected to drive here and back in one day, which would be unreasonable.”
Evans added that the timing of the email had “left college officers and Common Room Presidents to take the brunt of many questions late in the evening as it is impossible for us to not respond to students when they contact us through social media.”
Durham University Offices are closed for the Bank Holiday weekend, and will only reopen to respond to queries on Tuesday (26th).
The content and timing of the email have been criticised
Meanwhile, an email seen by Palatinate, sent to the University’s Communications Team by Elena Martin, JCR President of St Cuthbert’s Society, called the timing of the email “frankly unacceptable”.
Martin writes: “This is not an appropriate time (in the middle of an exam period, and in the current climate) to send out this information to already stressed students, only to leave them with no possibility of further information or support.
“This is a hugely important email with key information that directly contradicts information previously sent to students, therefore, it’s understandable that many of them will be confused and distressed by this sudden U-turn.”
Speaking to Palatinate, Martin said: “Ultimately the U-turn was a betrayal of trust. I’ve had international students tell me they feel like they’ve been “thrown under the bus”.
“The whole thing just shows a lack of care and compassion.”
Likewise, Diana Martinez, who runs the Ustinov GCR (Graduate Common Room) told Palatinate: “Despite the quick response from the University to the change on government guidelines, it is clear that the University has missed the point of having postgraduates.
Martinez agreed with the comments of David Evans, SU Postgraduate Academic Officer, who said: “With nothing determined for summer academic work at the moment, it is premature to close everything down.
“It’s clear no-one had even the most basic thought about postgraduates still having to work over the summer. I hope the University comes back with a solution that is more inclusive to postgraduates.”
“The whole thing just shows a lack of care and compassion”Elena Martin, JCR President of St Cuthbert’s Society
Criticism of the plans has also been levelled by the Environmental Community of Durham University (ECO DU), who condemned the “dangerously callous approach” of the University regarding the environmental impact of the plans.
In a social media post on Saturday afternoon (23rd May), the group criticised the decision to dispose of any possessions not collected by the deadline, arguing that it would result in “a huge amount of belongings possibly being sent to landfill.”
The University’s email also confirmed that the Green Move Out scheme would not be going ahead this year for students in privately-rented accommodation, due to “resourcing issues” with their charity partner, County Durham Furniture Help Scheme.
In response, ECO DU said that “the decision to cancel ‘the Green Move Out’ shows a complete lack of appreciation from the University for the continuing climate crisis, even amidst a pandemic.
“It is a shame that the usual charity partner is no longer able to assist the university, but this does not remove the university’s responsibility to reduce the waste created by its students.”
Image: Valentina Perzolla via Flickr