Durham students criticised at local council meeting

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

10 Responses

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  1. Malcolm Reed
    Jun 28, 2018 - 06:03 PM

    Good to see such objective posting from Clara Caspar. But how depressing to see the stock response from Pro-Vice Chancellor Owen Adams and his attempts to misrepresent the evidence. The “over £600 million” contributed to the regional economy “every year” by Durham University is nothing more than a snapshot calculation by the University’s paid consultants, Biggar Economics. It is based on one year’s data, depends on some very questionable modelling assumptions, and takes no accounts of the local costs that offset these benefits – such as the loss of council tax revenue from houses that are occupied by students. But even if the consultants’ figures are accepted, on Biggar Economics’ own showing the County Durham economy would have been £48 million better off in the study year if Durham University had been proportionately as successful as Portsmouth University in returning benefits from its operations to the local areas.

    And as for volunteering, by lumping together the considerable commitment by university staff with that of students in his total of “over 25,000 hours” dedicated to good causes, Mr Adams very conveniently obscures the university’s own figure, that student volunteering amounts to an average of around 1 hours per student per year – appreciated, of course, by the local community, but hardly transformative in its scale.

    Reply
  2. Simon
    Jun 28, 2018 - 08:33 PM

    The council no longer cares about residents. Just taking the easy money from the uni. The city centres just a step up from a complete s@@t tip and allowed to fall into complete dispair. Businesses ran for decades are forced out to make more and more student accomidation. All this councils done is make seasonal ghettos and disillusion the tax payers. I used to proud to come from durham. Now im ashamed of the state of the place. The way its been mismanaged is beyond laughable and morally criminal. The city is just a campus now.

    Reply
  3. G.Hetherington
    Jun 28, 2018 - 09:38 PM

    I see that the university have appointed a liaison officer to help to adjust the town- gown balance. I hear that she has a university degree. Where did she get it? Don’t tell me………….!

    Reply
  4. Anonymous
    Jun 28, 2018 - 10:35 PM

    I was employed at one of the major stores in Durham which sadly no longer exists.. Durham University Students were often employed there as weekend staff, and I found them hard working and very polite young people. Students come to Durham to study at one of the top Universities in the World. They look for part time employment to earn money whilst studying and also volunteer to gain valuable experience. Why would they want to stop at University at end of term to attend “the big meeting”! They come from all over the world and look forward to going home to see their familes. STOP the criticism of our future generation and have a look at what YOU as a council are doing to destroy this beautiful city with your high business rates it’s because of this what has made businesses flee to centres on the outskirts of the city. Cheap contracts given to appalling work on roads through the city centre. In fact Durham would be a ghost town without the University!

    Reply
    • Sandra shenwari
      Jun 30, 2018 - 12:56 AM

      I completely agree – the students keep durham going and without them it would be a ghost town. The councillors are cutting off their noses to spite their face. As for students moving into villages – what’s wrong with that?! Some of the villages are half dead anyway. Students are just what a village needs to revive it.

      Reply
  5. nemo
    Jun 29, 2018 - 10:24 AM

    While things seem to have worsened in recent years, this tension between city and University is not new. Even three decades ago, when I was a student, they existed. And that was at a time when the student corpus was only a third of what it was now. In the intervening time have seen a huge swelling in the higher education system, not to mention the changes to the regional economy wrought by the ravages of Thatcherism and the years after.

    We also have to accept that our student body, unlike some other places, has a very high number of people coming in from well outside the immediate region, and even outside the UK. This too creates issues. Durham is only a small place and its capacity is only finite. It certainly creates huge imbalances, so you have seasonal populations and tree that almost starts to resembles seaside or predominantly tourist-based economies. This imbalance has happened together with the negative changes going on in city centres generally over the last decade: it’s almost a perfect storm.

    And it is possible that all the shades of opinion here are right: there are “poor neighbours”, but there are also people who come here and offer a great deal to their adopted home. Perhaps neither the University, non the council, have really done a good job of managing the expansion that has happened over the years. The number of students has almost tripled over the last 25 years or so, and only one new college was built in the City in that time. This has undoubtedly created pressure on living space (and its cost) in the city itself. It has also had an impact on surrounding communities, as the search for affordable space bleeds out into those areas.

    The University is offering plans for expansion, and the capacity planning that this involves includes decisions that should have been made much earlier, by several of the the current VC’s predecessors. The directions the University can expand in are limited, though one would imagine that piling more into the centre of the city cannot be at all helpful.

    Though I was a student here, I am also from the North East, and I don’t want to see the essential character of the city destroyed by the expansion of the University, even though such growth would being some benefits. And its a good thing that the local community are being listened to, and their opinions are being listened to. If the evidence of the latest VC Q&A are anything to go by, these plans are getting intense scrutiny from both local people and students (who are in many cases all too aware of the impact of their presence).

    Reply
    • nemo
      Jun 29, 2018 - 10:30 AM

      apologies for some of the poor proofing. Knocked out in something of a hurry…

      Reply
  6. Carlos
    Jun 29, 2018 - 01:45 PM

    They need to stop building student accomadations, they’re everywhere in Durham now and not only is it ruining the aesthetics of such a beautiful place – it gives the impression that the city is solely for students, and that’s the way its starting to feel more and more as the years go on.

    I say fuck the students to be honest, most of them are privillages wankers who look down on the folk from the city and local towns.

    Reply
    • Sandra
      Jun 30, 2018 - 01:02 AM

      I come from a working class family and never went to university. Why should I resent people who do? And they are not privileged etc etc – and they don’t look down on us as a general rule. I like them – they are often very polite, hard working young people and i think being jealous of them is a waste of energy and makes you look stupid.

      Reply
  7. Paul
    Jun 29, 2018 - 11:25 PM

    I’d rather have the students here than the typical Friday/Saturday night Geordie Shore Wannabees… they’re the ones that bring the City down….the 40 year old women carrying bottles of Lambrini with them is embarrassing….groups of 50 year old men letching at teenagers….whilst holding in their beer guts. God give me strength.

    Reply

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