Durham University conceals its guilt behind a veil of silence

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Durham University has sparked justifiable derision with its announcement that college accommodation will cost each student in excess of £7,000 for the next academic year.

This represents the fifth consecutive year in which prices have risen; since 2012, they have gone up from £149-per-week to £186.

For a myriad of reasons, this should – and has – been widely condemned, most notably because of how it makes it simply unfeasible for students from less advantaged backgrounds to come to Durham.

A rise in college accommodation fees will inevitably lead to a hike in rents demanded by local landlords and letting agents, so Durham students will be forced by this decision to pay higher rents for the entire duration of their degree programme.

Anybody who claims that such action will not deter less privileged sixth formers from applying to Durham is either deluded or lying, and I am ashamed to be associated with an institution which has made a conscious decision to pursue a policy which will promote nothing but elitism.

In light of such a reprehensible decision, the university should be given one final chance to explain itself, to justify why such a policy is necessary. If it cannot do this, it deserves every slither of abuse, ridicule, accusation and verbal attack it attracts.

In the document emailed to all students on Friday 27 November, the university explains that “the inflation in the costs associated with delivering College Accommodation is different from the generally quoted ‘inflation rate’”, which has not risen above 2% since 2012, while college fees have never risen in this time at an annual rate lower than 3.1%.

If the University do not use the “generally quoted ‘inflation rate’”, then what inflation rate do they use? Students’ anger does not directly concern their use of a different rate, but it shall not subside until they come forward and explain what this measure is, how it is calculated and, in addition, who calculates it.

As an economics student who has been taught in my time here by lecturers unable to factorise a quadratic equation, who don’t know the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and who, as recently as last week, do not turn up to teach their lectures with no prior warning, I am understandably intrigued by this last question more than any other.

It is not appropriate to disparage the University for their decisions if they are justified, but we are yet to see such justification for this choice. Despite a public outcry against this latest move, they have still not come forth to explain themselves, and seem determined to resist at all costs.

One hopes a Freedom of Information Act request will force them into an explanation, but it is somewhat shameful that such a course of action is even necessary. The University should step up and explain their actions willingly; after all, if they can be justified, what have they to fear?

Why is a different measure of inflation used to calculate college accommodation costs? What lies behind that inflation rate of 3.5%? Why is 33% of the cost of accommodation services spent on ‘Capital’ and ‘Borrowing’? What does ‘Capital’ and ‘Borrowing’ actually entail?

The University should openly answer these questions and more related ones also.

Durham students are reasonable; if they are presented with compelling evidence that such extortionate fees are indeed necessary, I am sure they will come to accept it with minimal fuss. Until this time, however, it is perfectly reasonable to view their silence as an admission of guilt, and they should be harangued accordingly.

Durham University believes that “living in College, with no further bills to pay…supported by College staff…and with numerous social facilities on site, continues to represent value for money”, but surely such a subjective judgement about such a matter must also take account of the views of the consumers, in this case the students paying those fees.

The University simply cannot continually defend themselves by saying that their fees represent “value for money”, when those paying the fees don’t believe they are receiving this.

This is an even more pressing issue in the debate about tuition fees, which should also be considered in a wider debate about students getting “value for money”.

Durham University needs to open its eyes and open its ears. It does not possess unparalleled wisdom and judgement, and would do well to listen to others outside of its Executive Committee.

It is now a business – this one cannot deny – and it provides for consumers. These consumers no longer believe the products they are receiving justify their extortionate price, and they have every right to feel this way.

If they truly have nothing to hide, they should explain their decisions, provide adequate justification and participate in the debate.

But until they do this, those consumers that rely on them have every right to accuse them of foul play, to be angry, to berate them, and to demand better.

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