By Clara Gaspar
Durham students have been criticised at a council meeting for their lack of engagement with the local community.
Jan Blakey, a councillor, said that Durham students “just do their exams and go away”, The Times has reported.
The heated discussion was prompted by a debate about converting a cul de sac in Gilesgate into a six-flat student house of multiple occupation. However, members of Durham County Council’s Area Planning Committee rejected the plans.
Ms Blakey, who acts as an independent councillor on the committee, said:
“The students do not bring a lot to our communities; there’s a lot of take but not a lot given back, and I don’t think another [house of multiple occupancy] is the answer to the problem.
“There’s already enough in Durham city and they’re starting to spread to the villages. It’s not that we don’t want them, and if they interacted with their communities people would look on them better, but they don’t.”
David Freeman, a councillor for the Liberal Democrats, also conceded that the relationship between the students and the local community has become tense.
“Students are not going out of their way to annoy residents but it’s just a lot of young people in a small area that have a different way of living to residents with families and children.
“Unfortunately the university have very low interest in the way their students behave if they’re not actually living in their colleges.”
These comments follow heated dialogue about the University’s plans to increase student numbers by almost 6,000 by 2027. In April, at a community engagement event held to consult residents about this expansion, a resident told the panel “If you want to make Durham City into Durham Campus then we’ll bugger off.”
Tensions were also heightened by Trevelyan College Rugby Club’s plans for a 1980s miners’ strike-themed social earlier in the academic year.
Students’ indifference towards Durham’s mining history was also raised as a source of concern for Ms Blakey.
She stated at the meeting, “On July 14, we have the Durham miners’ gala and there’s no students there — they will all have gone. So they don’t witness the solidarity of the northeast coalfields as was.”
However, Owen Adams, pro-vice-chancellor at Durham, hit back at these criticisms.
“Any suggestion that our students take from the local community and do not give back is incorrect,” he said. “Durham University is rooted in its communities and we are proud of the positive contribution we make to Durham city and northeast England.
“Every year we contribute over £600 million to the regional economy and our staff and students dedicate over 25,000 hours to good causes through volunteering.”
In an attempt to rectify the antagonism between residents and students, Durham University has appointed a new Community Liaison Officer, Hannah Shepherd, earlier this month.
This role has been created in order to “maintain and develop relationships between the University, its students and people who live and work in Durham City.”
In addition, earlier this week the University announced the introduction of a new code of conduct for all students, which will be expected to be signed on enrolment at the beginning of each academic year.
Photograph: Tony Shertila via Flickr