Freshers face half-hour walks from colleges to accommodation after “chaotic” admissions process

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Prospective Durham University freshers have described the college reallocation process as “cruelly disappointing” and “unorganised” as the University attempts to find space for incoming students just weeks before the start of term.

Last month, Durham University announced it would offer incoming freshers £500 for moving colleges in an attempt to prevent overcrowding on campus. An email from the University to incoming undergraduates explained that some colleges are over their total accommodation capacity as a result of high offer attainment.

Students have also been offered places in private accommodation, including the Unite Students block Rushford Court, which will house overflow from Collingwood College. Josephine Butler, St Hild and Bede and University colleges will also be using private accommodation in a similar way. Students who have been allocated to private accommodation will not be eligible for the £500 compensation.

One student, allocated to Rushford Court, which is self-catered and a 27-minute walk away from the main Collingwood site, said she “applied to Durham specifically for the collegiate system and wanted to live in college with the college lifestyle and community.

“Now it’s self-catered and reliant on a shuttle bus service or a 30-minute walk each way. The facilities of Rushford Court are excellent, but it’s the isolation from the college that will be the issue.”

“Overall I would describe the experience as chaotic, unorganised and very last minute.”

-Incoming Fresher

Incoming students studying Classics, English Studies, History, Music, Biosciences, Psychology, Management, and Geography were offered a one-off cash payment of £5000 by the University in return for deferring their offer by a year. Students who accepted the offer will be guaranteed their first choice college when they begin their degrees in 2022.

The £5,000 incentive has now been extended to incoming students studying Computer Science, Law, Liberal Arts, Natural Sciences, Physics, PPE, and Primary Education after a massive increase in successful offers after A-Level Results Day in August.

India Manley, who has now chosen to defer her offer until 2022/23, after she was reallocated to George Stephenson College, having originally been told that she was going to Hatfield. She told Palatinate that she was “over the moon” when she got allocated to the Bailey college, but Stephenson College, which is self-catered, was “absolutely the opposite” of what she wanted.

The prospective fresher said she had bought an academic gown for Hatfield and has made a friendship group with other incoming Hatfield freshers on WhatsApp. She described being reallocated as “cruelly disappointing for young people who’ve already been through a hugely disruptive and tough two years.”

Durham Students’ Union has criticised Durham University’s decision to offer prospective Durham students a one-off cash payment of £5,000 in return for deferring their degrees for a year, calling it “too little too late”.

Undergraduate Academic Officer and Postgraduate Academic Officer Declan Merrington said the University’s attempt to reduce the number of incoming freshers for the 2021-22 academic year is “short-sighted” and a “poor decision”.

A spokesperson for the University told Palatinate the scheme is being offered due to the “unprecedented success of students in this year’s A-levels and other Level 3 qualifications, and to help ensure the best possible academic and wider student experience for all students through targeted action to manage the sizes of some of our new entry cohorts in Departments and in our Colleges.

“Whether students chose to begin their studies with us this year or next, they can look forward to a world-class academic and wider student experience.”

“The wait for an allocation, followed by my allocation into my last choice of college, has wreaked havoc on my mental health.”

-Eleanor Marvin, Incoming Fresher

This year, applicants were able to rank the 17 colleges in order of preference for the first time. The process was designed to maximize the number of applicants who receive their first choice of college.

Eleanor Marvin, who was reallocated to her last choice college, Van Mildert after being allocated to University College, which was her first-choice college, told Palatinate the reallocation process has “wreaked havoc” on her mental health.

She said: “I have been emailing with increasing desperation and have been met with absolutely no response. I have a severe anxiety diagnosis and the wait for an allocation, followed by my allocation into my last choice of college, has wreaked havoc on my mental health.

“I wouldn’t have firmed Durham if I had known that I would be reallocated into my bottom choice, or about even a fraction of the disrespect they have shown us this year. As an LGBT state school student, it feels like I am being manipulated into deferral. Why did they not make it clear that college allocation was an incentive to form rather than a given? Now I feel like they are taking £37000 as well as accommodation fees from me on the promise of an experience that I am not going to receive.

“The differences between my original and new colleges are extreme enough that I feel like I am about to go to a completely different university to the one I firmed. Durham has done absolutely nothing to reassure my anxieties. Phone calls are met with “we’ll pass it on” and emails are met with total silence.”

“All first-year students joining Durham will become a member of one of our Colleges and offered College accommodation in Durham City.”

-Jeremy cook, University pro-vice-chancellor

Another student, who deferred their 2020-21 course due to the impact Covid-19 would have had, was reassigned to South College twice after applying to St Cuthbert’s Society. They described their experience as confusing, and outlined how long it took for the university and college to get back to them:

“After results day I received an email from South admissions saying that I was in South, which I didn’t question but found very confusing. By August I hadn’t heard anything back and I had no idea where I’d be living in a month’s time. I then received an email asking for my accommodation preferences and I only had 5 days to respond, because it was left so late. So I responded and it took until three weeks before I moved to know where I’ll be living.

“Overall I would describe the experience as chaotic, unorganised and very last minute.”

Jeremy Cook told Palatinate: “All first-year students joining Durham will become a member of one of our Colleges and offered College accommodation in Durham City. Our colleges are thriving communities of staff and students from all our subject areas. Each one offers a distinct, high-quality environment for learning and personal growth with a wide range of student-led activities and access to support staff and welfare volunteers for help or advice.”

Cook continued: “Incoming undergraduates received written communication to advise them that their college allocation may change, and any first-year undergraduate student required to move College this year will be compensated with a £500 cash payment in our Autumn term. Many were also given the option to defer to 2022 entry with a £5,000 payment and the guarantee of their College of choice.”

Image: St Mary’s College

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