Managing the Stockton move: too much too soon?

By Clara Gaspar

Last month, the University announced its commitment to increasing the total number of students to a maximum of 21,500 by 2027.

The figure stands at 18,013 for the 2017/18. The University added that these numbers would include an increase in the number of UK students as well as non-UK students.

Despite rising concern that resources will be stretched, the University made clear that “to cater for the increased number of students, the University has already increased, and will continue to increase, facilities and services.”

They cited the ways in which Durham University is working to increase facilities in line with student increases:

  • Increasing study spaces at the Bill Bryson Library
  • Developing Sheraton Park as a new home for Ustinov College
  • Developing two new colleges at Mount Oswald
  • Creating a state-of-the-art Centre for Teaching and Learning at Lower Mountjoy
  • Investing £29.5 million in sports facilities at Maiden Castle
  • Providing financial support to allow John Snow and Stephenson College to operate across both Queen’s Campus and Durham City, investing £1.4 million in a new building at the Howlands site, which will be ready for 2018/19 academic year

Professor Antony Long, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, said: “The movement of Queen’s Campus staff and students to Durham City is a major part of the new University Strategy.

“The original decision was made on the clear commitment that we would provide sufficient facilities to ensure that all students continue to have access to excellent facilities. That remains the case.

“So, as we grow to a maximum of 21,500 students by 2027, we will develop a wide range of facilities and services which will ensure we deliver a world-class education and wider student experience.

However, the lack of sufficient study spaces in the Bill Bryson Library continues to be of concern for many students, given the discrepancy between the high influx of new students this year and the comparatively small number of study spaces added.

Census data suggests that there are 1,081 more students in Durham city this year than last year.

The University said: “The increased student numbers at Durham are partly due to the Queen’s Campus relocation (550 students have relocated for 2017/18) and partly due to growth in student numbers.”

However, the Bill Bryson Library has only increased their capacity by 100 study spaces. The competition to find a study space in the Library has been heightened by the shortening of library opening hours.

The University maintains that this is not due to financial matters and is a temporary occurrence, telling Palatinate: “The closure of the Bill Bryson Library at 10pm from Sunday to Thursday is a temporary measure, from Monday 15 January to Sunday 11 February. From Monday 12 February, the Library will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Monday 19 March.

Jane Robinson, Chief Operating Officer, said: “The University took the decision to temporarily reduce opening hours at the Bill Bryson Library by ten hours per week for the first four weeks of Epiphany Term due to temporary staff shortages.

“This was not a matter of financial resources. We continue to prioritise student safety and the provision of high-quality services.”

Rising student numbers are also putting pressure on the availability of affordable and good quality, private housing in Durham City. Collingwood first year students were warned that prices of houses in the viaduct could rise by up to £15 per person per week in 2018/2019.

According to statistics presented early this year by the national anti-poverty group, ACORN, only 15% of Durham students would recommend their accommodation to a friend or family member, while only 29% of Durham students deemed their accommodation “value for money”.

When asked about how the influx of students from Stockton campus had affected him, Second Year History student Harry Morris said: “In general, I have not found myself to have been seriously affected by the migration of Stockton students to Durham city.

“However, house prices have evidently risen… whilst the lack of Bill Bryson expansion has forced me to rely on our college library to a greater extent.”

Photograph: Tony Roberts via Flickr

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