by Daniel Johnson & Hugh Anderson-Elliott
College JCR’s are set to stage a protest against 38-week lets after growing exasperation at the University’s handling of the issue.
JCR Presidents’ Committee was damning of the proposals, speaking in a statement of the “real student anger that surrounds the issue”. They were also heavily critical of the impact 38-week lets could have on post-application open days and college services.
A motion for the protest outside Old Shire Hall will be put to DSU Council on Thursday, with insiders saying it is certain to pass, most likely unanimously. The protest will take the form of a walk out of all lectures at 12, at which point everyone will gather outside Old Shire Hall and sign a petition.
DSU President Mike King lamented the lack of consultation on the issue: “It is not good enough that college presidents have only been consulted once over a lunch.
“What is required is a working group set up of all 12 colleges involving the JCR president, principle and bursar.”
A Durham University spokesperson said: “The Deputy Warden is leading on consultation with Colleges, the JCR Presidents and the DSU to determine the right value for money packages for future years, which meet the individual needs of Colleges.
“A further meeting is scheduled with the JCR Presidents and DSU on November 12 when this issue will be discussed. It is not clear what purpose any protest would serve and at this stage it would be premature.”
Surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority of students are opposed to 38-week lets.
A survey last year of over 1000 students found that only 6% supported the proposal of compulsory 38 week let, a tiny proportion considering the wide ranging implications of the policy.
In addition the survey found that 98% of students did not want college open days to cease, and 76% had found their college open day an important factor in deciding whether to come to Durham University. Colleges say it is extremely doubtful whether post application open days will be able to continue in their current form were the university to implement mandatory 38-week let.
A more recent survey of around 700 students has found that when questioned on the same issue, over 80 percent said that open days were “important or very important” in causing them to chose Durham.
Similarly, this year only 22 of 327 Hild Bede students signed up for 38-week let, a mere 6.7%.
One JCR President said, after the motion had been proposed: “the University have been diabolical in their communications with us on this issue”.
DSU President Mike King pinpointed the lack of liaison with the University on the issue as a key reason for the protest. He said: “The motion has gone to council because college presidents and students do not feel that they have been consulted on how 38-week lets will be implemented.
“The University executive has made the decision on 38-week lets but they do not know how they will implement the policy. Policy should be forward thinking and 38-week lets should be retracted until they have a plan on how to implement 38-week lets.”
There have been question marks over the process by which the University has come to this decision, as conflicting messages have been given out by different high profile figures.
The DSU have been told in no uncertain terms that the policy will go ahead, but meanwhile several University offices are still refusing to participate in the debate, hiding behind the fact that it is still not “official” policy.
In November of last year the University faced severe criticism when it became known that they were planning compulsory 38-week lets on college accommodation instead of the current 33-week let.
All JCR Presidents wrote an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor heavily criticising the policy, and the President’s Committee described the let as “like paying for a hotel for the week and not being able to use it on the Tuesday and Thursday.”
Student opinion was almost universally negative, one student asking, “Has anyone noticed that our University makes all its decisions without ever asking the student population’s opinion?”
After heated discussions between the University and colleges the issue appeared to be resolved, but in recent weeks JCR’s say the University has not taken heed of their concerns. Protests at Durham are something of a rareity, but in recent years have including a demonstration against cuts in higher education, and a vocal protest at the visit of former NUS President Wes Streeting over the BNP debacle.
The protest against cuts in higher education also included a counter-demonstration, with a few students holding up a sign saying, “we want unlimited fees”.
However, with backing from colleges and the DSU, the planned protest against 38-week lets looks set to be well attended.
Mike King added: “We are currently in consultation with the Police, national media, local council as well as the National Union of Students. This is not what anybody wants. Presidents want consultation, students want clarification and everyone wants choice.”
Local MP Roberta Blackman-Woods was clear in highlighting that compulsory 38-week lets is a bad option for students.
The DSU Council motion in full:
Proposed by: Patrick McConnell
Seconded by: Mike King
DSU Council Notes
1. The upcoming implementation of mandatory 38 Week lets in nearly all Durham catered Colleges.
2. The significant student opposition expressed last year and this to the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets.
3. The lack of consultation and communication with students on this issue.
4. The contradictory messages given by numerous University staff members on this issue
5. The possibility that the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets may jeopardize residential post-application open days.
6. The possibility that the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets may jeopardize residential outreach projects run over Easter.
7. The significant positive feedback from Durham University students on the importance for residential Post-Application Open Days in making their choice to come to Durham.
8. That welfare provision over the Easter holidays is far inferior to that which is provided during term time.
9. That catering facilities over the Easter holidays are inadequate for self-catered cooking in much of the accommodation across the colleges
10. That the University has not yet been able to indicate how much 38 week lets will cost
11. The general increase in the financial burden of attending Durham University.
DSU Council Believes
1. That the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets is forcing all students to pay for accommodation which the majority of which do not want and will not use.
2. That the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets is limiting student choice as they are not able to chose an accommodation package that suits them.
3. That the consultation and communication from the University throughout this process has been poor, to the detriment of both students and the University’s plans.
4. That the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets limits the ability for students to introduce future events or projects which would require rooms over the Easter period.
5. That the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets will likely see an increase in the cost of living in college.
DSU Council Resolves
1. To fully oppose the introduction of mandatory 38 week lets.
2. To take appropriate direct action to demonstrate student frustration at the decline in choice, the poor communication and consultation on the issue and against any possible increase in cost to students.
3. To hold a student walkout in opposition of mandatory 38 week lets.