New college centralisation proposal stirs student controversy

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New proposed centralisation policies for Durham University colleges have stirred controversy in the student body.

According to documents obtained by Palatinate, the proposed changes are to occur in two phases, with the first phase engaged in increasing the power of upper University management to review and monitor operations in both Accommodation and Commercial Services and Estates Operations departments.

The documents, known as Briefing 6 and authored by Helen Strangward, Director of Accommodation and Commercial Services and Andy Allison, Assistant Director (Estates Operations), enumerate a new structure for colleges.

According to Briefing 6, Phase 1 will be completed by mid-February, and will include the hiring of new staff in senior management that will then take on responsibilities currently reserved for college staff.

Phase 2, the documents claimed, will consist of a review process to “identify and implement new ways of working and improve flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness.”

The JCR Presidents Council reacted today, releasing a letter to Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins denouncing the policy as “a significant threat to the collegiate system; a system which, ultimately, encapsulates everything that is fantastic and unique about Durham University.”

According to information released by the University College JCR Senior Man, more specific provisions of the proposals include the removal of management members of college offices, such as the college bursars, and the removal of budgetary power from the Heads of Colleges. The Heads of Colleges have also written a letter to the Vice-Chancellor to express concerns over the new structure and a need for clarity over the changes.

In a response to the JCR Presidents Committee, Higgins wrote:

“[A]ny changes are aimed solely at enhanced service provision and value for money for  students and the continued development of the distinctive Durham Colleges as educational communities which, as you say, are a critical component of this University.”

Higgins went on to say:

“[I]f we do not modernise and enhance our facilities and accommodation services the concerns you express are much more likely to come to the fore – no change is not an option!”

Higgins has further stated that any claims that the University office acted without consultation are “simply incorrect.” According to Higgins, student consultation has occurred over the past several months through the Durham Students’ Union, and through focus groups including executive JCR members and PresComm.

The Vice-Chancellor went on to say that Briefing 6 was in fact highly responsive to JCR President concerns, and is only trying to find more value for the money in colleges.

Moreover, despite concerns specifically about college bursars, Higgins was quick to say that the proposals may change, and that it would be a mistake to jump to conclusions.

Palatinate understands that Presidents Committee is looking to clarify with the Vice-Chancellor several areas, such as the impact the changes would have on events, college bars, accommodation, and Heads of College.

Briefing 6 included several areas that needed additional improvement in the colleges.

These areas included monitoring of standards, especially outside office hours, planning and delivery of maintenance works, staff training and development, use of resources, management information to support decision-making, consistency in staff management practices and rewards, and clarity of roles and responsibilities for Health and Safety.

According to the documents, “current line management structures were limiting the University’s ability to achieve service improvements and value for money.”

However, the authors hastened to add that the college experience is an important part of the ‘Durham Experience’ and must be protected.

Image Courtesy of Durham University

9 thoughts on “New college centralisation proposal stirs student controversy

  • How do we get rid of this current Vice-Chancellor?

    • A vote of no confidence. Though it has no binding effect on the VC, a very clear signal would significantly weaken his position and legitimacy at the top.
      After all, he’ll have a few people who he “rubbed” the wrong way in his administration who may then use this to make a stand.

    • Chad’s got rid of a college principal through a vote of no-confidence about 20 years ago.

  • A petition to have him removed from the job signed by several thousand students couldn’t hurt.

  • /sarcasm/The collegiate system is an antiquated model that needs to be gradually phased out in order for the University to progress in the contemporary era./sarcasm/

  • Shabby has a lot to answer for in general.

    If he didn’t want to get rid of colleges, why is he so keen to stop people choosing which college they wish to go to?

    He built a Law School but has taken so much space out of it for
    management and other forms of paper pushers that many, many law
    lectures, tutorials and similar activities are being held in every other
    building except the Law School. Shabby Higgins has embarrassed Durham
    post-grads over this – visiting professors have to lend out their
    offices for tutorials, PhD students don’t even have their own desk or
    even a locker – where, in Newcastle, Teesside, Sunderland, Northumbria,
    Liverpool, York, Leicester, Loughborough, Lancaster and numerous others,
    PhD students have their own desk in a lockable office (although
    admittedly many share the office with several colleagues).

    Shabby has also made sure that post-grad conferences are no more than
    money-making ventures for Event Durham, the university’s spin-off, to
    the degree that some are cancelled because of the outrageous fees
    charged by Event Durham.

    The farce with Old Shire Hall has cost the university literally millions, thanks to Shabby management.

    Who will Shabby put in the fancy £10 million new physics building? Oh –
    let me guess – more administrators, not the people who are the
    university – its lecturers and students. (Interesting that, having built
    SS Higgins in the Law School, he is now building SS Higgins hits an
    iceberg in the new physics building).

    And for this, Shabby Higgins is paid a salary almost twice that of the
    Prime Minister? He needs to be paid almost double that of the man
    running the world’s 6th largest economy? While his staff do not make a
    living wage?

    Get rid of this man before he does any more damage to the university

  • He’s also removing Senior Tutors from colleges and downgrading student support.

  • Please be assured that there is no proposal whatsoever to
    reorganise Durham’s collegiate system; our colleges make Durham University the very special place it is and we are committed to keeping it that way.

    It is true to say that there is currently a pan-University
    review of how we manage accommodation, commercial services and facilities
    management. The aim of this exercise is to strengthen our distinctive college
    provision in the best interests of our students. It will ensure that Colleges
    and their Principals have enhanced opportunities to further grow as dynamic educational communities.

    We are committed to enhancing the very special benefits
    which we know being part of a Collegiate University can bring to our students.
    Maintaining the individual character of each of our College communities
    is an essential condition of any changes we may introduce.

    I hope this helps to allay any fears you may have.


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