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