Disabled students urge University to reconsider 8am lectures

By Anna Tatham

Durham Students with Disabilities Association (SwDA) has expressed “great concern” over the proposed introduction of 8am lectures by the University next year.

In a statement released on 4th July, the Association writes that they “strongly urge” the University to reconsider its plans, as the lengthening of the academic day “has serious and potentially highly detrimental implications for disabled students, in particular.”

The Association argues that 8am lecture times would raise safety concerns of low light conditions and/or lack of public transport, meaning some students would be unable to attend.

Students who use academic support such as note takers, which are sourced from external companies, may be deprived of these services due to unavailability at an earlier time of day.

SwDA contest that the change in the academic day negatively coincides with the difficulties disabled students across the country are currently facing, with a decrease in support due to cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), and the switch to responsibility for support now being levelled at individual higher education institutions. Its statement states that these circumstances “may even make the courses affected entirely inaccessible for some.”

The Association critiques the University’s “high pressured educational environment”, which can cause disabled students to “feel unable to fully participate and thus can become isolated from their peers.” It believes “this will almost certainly increase with the implementation of these plans.”

Its statement concludes: “the University should ensure that they have appropriate and accessible facilities in place before any expansion of student numbers, particularly as changes such as those proposed can affect disabled students disproportionately due to the existing barriers and issues they face.”

The introduction of 8am lectures comes as part of the University’s ten-year Estate Masterplan, which aims to increase the student population to 21,500 by 2017.

It plans to further invest in Science Site buildings, existing colleges, the Education department, and Elvet Riverside. In addition to this, the University intends to build new colleges to allow for the increase in the student population.

When plans were initially revealed in 2016, Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham stated: “Our ambition is to grow and develop an estate that is fit for purpose, will accommodate growth and will enhance the student experience, as well as Durham’s international reputation, in a carefully planned, transparent and sustainable way.”

DSU President Megan Croll has also responded to the proposal: “The University has chosen to expand at their current rate, and it is becoming clear they have done so with little student input and no robust contingency plans.

“The early starts will cause a variety of issues for students: those who live outside of Durham will struggle to make it to lectures in time; bar staff and others who work late will get little sleep; students will miss college breakfast; it will impact early morning sporting commitments; those with children/caring responsibilities will face difficulties; students with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses have expressed significant worries about a longer day and the effect on accessibility; and another hour of teaching eats into the work/life balance. The list could go on.”

Croll also critiques the lack of communication  over the issue: “This shows a complete lack of commitment to student consultation, and sets a poor precedent for the Estates Masterplan as a whole.

“The Estates Masterplan doesn’t appear to be improving student experience, so why does it exist?”

Photograph: Durham University

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