By Cameron McIntosh
More than three quarters of Durham students say the University’s college accommodation is not good value for money and a mere one in ten say that it is, according to a Palatinate housing survey.
The survey, which gathered 533 responses between January 31st and February 14th, further reveals just 12.4% of Durham students agree the institution offers good value for money overall.
The findings shed new light on Durham student opinion surrounding the cost of living, both in college and in the city, at a time when value for money in the higher education sector is under increasing scrutiny.
When asked by Palatinate the extent to which they agreed with the statement, ‘College accommodation is good value for money’, just 10.3% of those who participated in the survey agreed or strongly agreed. In contrast, 77.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the same statement.
Some 79.5% of people said the University should cut college fees – and just two people said nothing should be done
Many respondents raised the issue of having inadequate funding from student finance to cover the cost of college accommodation fees.
One individual said: “While I have no complaints about the quality of accommodation offered by my college, given the cost of housing in the North East, both in the private sector and that offered by other universities in the region, the cost of university accommodation is extraordinarily high.
Just 12.4% agreed that overall Durham University is good value for money
“To set accommodation fees significantly above the maintenance loan available to most students seems entirely unjustifiable.”
The problem is only set to worsen, after the University last term announced a 3.5% increase in college accommodation fees, leaving some colleges to charge in excess of £8,000 a year.
This decision sparked a backlash from students, many of whom participated in public demonstrations orchestrated by the #RippedOff campaign, to voice their collective discontent.
The University has faced accusations from student activists of ignoring student concerns, with college rent prices spiralling from under £5,000 in 2011-12 to over £7,000 today, despite the North East being in the cheapest housing bracket in the UK.
The current rate charged to Durham students living in college is £7,422 for a catered non-ensuite room and £7,883 for catered ensuite options. This is reduced to £5,195 and £5,655 respectively for non-catered options.
“Why,” asks one respondent, “would I think a 300% rise in fees is good value?”
Feedback was more mixed on the quality of college housing and the facilities provided. Under half of those surveyed agreed college accommodation was to a good standard, with 58.3% agreeing their college has good facilities. Most respondents agreed college housing offers a satisfactory array of amenities.
One individual said: “The facilities are good (computer room, chapel, study spaces, hall, bar, etc.) however, the standard of them is very low.” Another commented: “The bar is lovely and the JCR is spacious, communal facilities tend to be good, whilst rooms and showers, etc are in real need of some care.”
A common complaint, aside from the recurring financial aspect, was the variation in room standards, despite the standardised pricing structure.
One person said: “The difference in the quality of rooms and subsidies/event costs between different colleges is ridiculous.”
In my second year we spent the entire year living with rats in the walls,” said one student
When asked by Palatinate how they would improve the experience of living in college accommodation, 79.5% of respondents said they would decrease rent. 60.6% opted for “more investment to improve accommodation standards”.
Just two of the 553 surveyed said nothing should be done to improve the standard of college accommodation.
Respondents also condemned the University on the issue of overall value for money, with 61.2% disagreeing with the statement that ‘Overall Durham University offers good value for money’.
One participant said: “A decade ago [University] would’ve cost me £3,000. Why would I think a 300% increase is ‘good value’?”
However, one respondent expressed a dissenting opinion: “Compared to many other institutions in the country, Durham is absolutely worth every penny, despite the fact it is in need of serious change in terms of accommodation.”
The second half of the survey concerned student attitudes to non-college housing in Durham city. Just 22.8% of those polled agreed non-college housing is good value for money, and 31.4% said it reaches a good standard.
The variation in rent prices in popular areas of the city, such as the Viaduct, was also a recurring concern. Many took issue with the imbalance between the average cost of housing in the North East more broadly, and the premium rents in excess of £100 a week charged to Durham students to live in close proximity to the city centre.
One person said: “Most houses are old and in a state of disrepair. Rent prices are almost at London levels and it is an absolute disgrace. Without the £2,000 Durham grant, I genuinely wouldn’t be able to study here.”
Another asked: “What is the justification for paying £130 a week for a small room in the Viaduct which happens to be a 20 [minute] walk to most University facilities, when the average rent for the rest of the city and county is less than half [that]?”
“It is clearly time for the University to respond to this strength of feeling,” said SU President Megan Croll
Stories of mould, vermin infestations, heating issues and unreliable landlords were common.
One such response detailed their experiences of living out in second year: “We spent the entire year living with rats in our walls.
“It took three weeks for the landlords to initially come back to us and a further two weeks for them to get anyone round to sort it.
“Pest control failed to keep the appointments they’d set and despite initially getting rid of the problem, the rats soon returned.”
President of Durham Students’ Union Megan Croll told Palatinate: “I’m unsurprised… it is clear that rent hikes in recent years, accompanied with a lack of refurbishment, are significantly impacting on the student experience.
“Further to this, with 79.5% of students feeling that the University should lower its fees, it is clearly time for the University to respond to this strength of feeling.”
The University refused to comment on the survey’s findings.
Photograph: John Whitehouse via Flickr. Graphics: Cameron McIntosh