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Decrease in number of returning students living in college

By Naomi Clarke

Palatinate investigation can reveal there is a steady decrease in the percentage of returners living in their colleges.

This is despite the “University’s aspiration to house 50-55% of students in College-affiliated accommodation by 2027”, according to the ‘University Estate Masterplan’.

The vast majority of first-year students will live in college in the first year of their studies, whilst the trend for ‘college returners’, students in 2nd, 3rd and 4th year, continues to be for them to live out of college.

The intake for returners has been steady for the majority of colleges. Although, some have seen a significant decrease in the proportion of returners they are accepting over the past five years.

Van Mildert college returners have increased from 685 in 2014/15 to 828 in 2018/19 but their percentage intake of returners living-in has decreased by 16.85% from 175 to 72 between the 2014/15 academic year to 2018/19. Hatfield has had a greater percentage drop by 17.72% from housing 156 returners to 84, despite the returner student body rising from 530 to 717.

The University has announced this year that college residence fees will rise by 3.5% to £7,672 for the 2019/20 academic year

Durham University’s 10 year ‘Estate Masterplan’ was initiated in 2017 to “ensure it remains competitive in the global higher education market.” In order to achieve this, it plans to “strengthen its research and education by growing staff and student numbers, to enable academic units to achieve critical mass.”

The University intends to continue to “increase its academic staff numbers by 330 from around 900 to 1,200 and increase student numbers by up to 4,000 from 17,500 to a maximum of 21,500 by 2027.’ A further 1,600 from John Snow and Stephenson were relocated from Queen’s Campus to Durham City Centre in 2017 to enable to site to be repurposed as part of Durham University International Study Centre.

Despite the “rooms predicted to be available for Undergraduate Returners” decreasing each year. John Snow’s predicted available rooms for undergraduate returners has decreased from 65 in 2014/15 to 0 in 2018/19. Whilst Grey College has had a percentage decrease of 53.4% in the same period from 131 rooms predicted available to 61. University College has also reduced their predicted availability from 126 to 63 rooms.

The University has announced this year that college residence fees will rise by 3.5% to £7,672 for the 2019/20 academic year. Catered single en-suite rooms will increase from £7,883 to £8,149, and self-catered ensuite rooms will rise from £5,655 to £5,846.

Prices have increased from under £5,000 a year in 2011/12 to over £7,000 this year. The significant increase in accommodation prices may have been a factor in deterring students from returning to colleges.

This price increase has led students to protest in the SU organised “RippedOff” Campaign.

More students are choosing to live out in private accommodation within Durham City, causing the Durham housing market to become more competitive over the past few years, causing the threat of rising weekly housing prices and pricing out lower-income students and carers.

The significant increase in accommodation prices may have been a factor in deterring students from returning to colleges

In a previous Palatinate investigation comparing the student pricing of Lancaster University to that of Durham, it was discovered that despite the average house price in Durham being lower than Lancaster, the average weekly rent of the cheapest catered college accommodation was £59.79 higher per week, with Lancaster averaging £142.10.

Equally, the City of Durham has seen a sharp increase in the construction of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in recent years, with a staggering number opening across the Viaduct, Claypath, and Gilesgate Bank areas.

The University has stated in their ‘Estate Masterplan’ that “where appropriate, we will also work in partnership with some of the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) providers, thus mitigating the need for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).” Many houses, however, are still privately owned.

To accommodate the student body increase the University is planning to open up a 17th College in 2020, alongside the new home for John Snow College. The university has stated between these new facilities they will have 1,000 student beds. John Snow currently already has 358 undergraduate and postgraduate students living in college.

Professor Martyn Evans, Interim Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), stated: “Like any other enterprise, our running costs increase each year. Residence charges are set to reflect rising staff, utility, and building costs.

“We know some of our students face real financial pressures. The Durham Grant Scheme offers bursaries to home undergraduates, studying their first degree, who have a household income of less than £25,000 a year.

To accommodate the student body increase the University is planning to open up a 17th College in 2020

He continued: “We are, and will remain, a proudly collegiate university, and it is vitally important that our Colleges continue to be mixed communities, of new and returning students, undergraduates and postgraduates. Increasing the number, and thus proportion, of returning undergraduates is arguably the single most important aspect of the onward development of our College communities, and achieving this is, to my mind, a clear priority.

“Clearly, this depends crucially upon increasing the total number of rooms in Colleges beyond the rate at which we increase our intake of first year students. We are currently investing heavily in our student accommodation, including building two new College facilities at Mount Oswald and refurbishing our existing Colleges. A new home for John Snow College and our new South College will open at Mount Oswald in September 2020, each with accommodation for 500 students.

“We are also currently considering how we can most effectively develop our Leazes Road site, home to the College of St Hild and St Bede, which we recognise requires significant investment. Beyond this, further Colleges are also under consideration within the lifetime of the ten-year Estate Masterplan, and the goal of College accommodation for 50-55% of students remains firmly in place.”

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