By Hugo Harris
A petition launched by Durham Students’ Union (DSU) to accompany their #RippedOff campaign against Durham University’s college accommodation costs has now surpassed 1,250 signatures.
Announcing the #RippedOff campaign last week, DSU President Alice Dee noted how accommodation fees at the University have risen over the past nine academic years to the extent they have exceeded the Retail Price Index (RPI) by over 25%: “These above-inflation increases to college accommodation fees have made the make the cost of living in college too high for returning students, meaning less do so, resulting in the loss of the college as a true student community. The University has been unable to identify why accommodation rates are set so high or where the money from accommodation fees is distributed within the University budget”.
The #RippedOff petition that calls on Durham University to “lower 2018-2019 accommodation fees to what they would have been had the University been using RPI for the last nine academic years” is effectively seeking the lowering of accommodation fees to the annual sums of £5,775 and £5,139 for catered and self-catered students respectively.
The petition also calls on the University to freeze college accommodation costs until the conclusion of an extensive review of the fees that also takes into account factors such as Durham University’s grant and bursary schemes.
George Stanbury of Durham for Accessible Education (DFAE) has wholeheartedly welcomed the DSU’s actions and the attention their petitions received: “I encourage everyone in Durham to get involved with this campaign – it affects us all and our ability to create an inclusive university community. That it has already achieved such great support means that it’s something the University cannot ignore and, if this support continues, the University will finally have to take substantial action to address its financial culture of taking students for granted”.
He added: “With DFAE, I have heard from many students who have been priced out of all that Durham has to offer and that’s mainly because of the unnecessarily steep increases we face in our rent. We’re often told we pay a premium for the collegiate system, but it’s clear that this excuse to charge students more, paradoxically, excludes many from the collegiate community Durham seeks to create”.
Research undertaken by the DSU has suggested that Durham University’s low-end accommodation was the highest priced this year out of 12 ‘peer institutions’.
A comparison of first-year hall rent prices by the letting agent ‘Student Cribs’ has suggested that Durham University, on-average, demands the 11th highest weekly rent in the Russell Group for self-catered students (see ).
Pro-Vice-Chancellor Owen Adams has pushed back against the assertion that the views of Durham Univeristy students have not been considered: “The cost of providing our college residences rises year on year and we have to review prices on an annual basis to ensure we can continue to provide a high standard of accommodation and services. When reviewing our college residence charges, we consult extensively, including with student representatives”.
“We strive to offer good value for money to our students. We continue to invest in our colleges to offer an excellent student experience and we continue to listen to feedback. Recent examples of refurbishment projects at our colleges include: the St Mary’s music rooms, new study space at Josephine Butler, a new gym at Trevelyan, and a multi-use games area (MUGA) for outdoor sports at Collingwood.”
A protest organised by the DSU is nonetheless due to take place outside the Bill Bryson Library on Wednesday, 7 June at 10am.
Photograph: Rob Hardyman