Durham University students have been left angered after Durham University announced that accommodation prices would rise by 10.3%, the biggest increase in accommodation prices ever.
The increase means that a standard catered room with a shared bathroom will be £9156 for a 39 week contract, with students paying £234.77 per week. This is the first time a standard catered room will be over £9000.
This has led to an outrage among students, with a Cut the Rent protest now being planned by several prominent organisations on 28th January in an attempt to get the increase reduced.
In their initial statement, Durham University said “The University has approved a 10.3% increase in both accommodation and catering charges. As you will be aware, the University is experiencing rises in our operating costs in the current economic climate.
“We have tried to keep increases to our accommodation and catering charges as low as possible, and to make sure that college-managed accommodation remains competitively priced in relation to private accommodation in Durham City”
In a poll conducted by Palatinate where 1014 students were polled, it was found that 89% of students disagreed with the rise of prices. 67% of students completely disagreed with the rise, with 22% of students mostly disagreeing.
Many students voiced their anger to Palatinate with one Durham student saying “this is disgusting and I still can’t believe the university is doing this to its students. My rent this year was £9000 – next year it will be higher than my max maintenance loan. What am I meant to do?”
Another student echoed this anger but wanted to know where the money was being spent, “I would love to see a breakdown of this cost. I’m living in college this year, and have switched to being self-catered this term.
“College food is poor quality, has small portions and is really quite disgusting. Where’s this money going?”
Other students have raised concerns that porters in college and catering staff are not seeing wage increases in light of the cost-of living crisis and are concerned about where the money will be going.
Durham UCU PGRs highlighted this issue saying for those who both work for the University and who also live in University run accommodation “While [Durham University] refuses to become a living wage employer, continues to exacerbate the issues in the private housing market, it also remains committed to fleecing its students. And PGRs are impacted by both.”
Durham University chose not to add to their initial statement to Palatinate over whether porters and catering staff were receiving an increase in wages to match inflation.
Concern was also raised about the impact on working class students due to the increase in prices. One alumna criticised the decision as impacting inclusivity saying “literally pricing out working class students.
“Maximum student loan is now £9978, leaving £822 to live on. Durham don’t allow you a job for more than 12 hours a week if I remember. Students with additional needs who require an en-suite will need to pay more.”
The University allows students to work 16 hours per week, though they do not advise working any more hours.
In a statement to Palatinate, 93% club said, “Recently, Palatinate has produced articles discussing why state-educated students are most abundant in self-catered hill colleges, Josephine Butler having a 67% state-educated majority intake over the last 5 years. Now, with the 10.3% rise set for the next academic year, where will state educated students from low socio-economic backgrounds go?
“Durham continues to push out talent and position itself as a figurehead for universities ‘inspiring the extraordinary’ who are privileged enough to attend, and not for talent of all backgrounds. Durham University is unfortunately reinforcing structural inequalities, which make the institution less accessible for those from low and middle socio-economic backgrounds.”
When contacted by Palatinate regarding the issues facing working class students, Durham University chose not to add to their initial comment, they “offer to all students who need to bridge financial gaps to support grants of up to £6000 per annum.”
The decision to raise prices also comes in a year where Durham students have faced unprecedented issues with housing. In October 2022, Palatinate reported about students forced to camp out overnight last term to secure housing for next year.
The situation also sparked a private housing protest which took place last term and garnered national attention. With rising costs of housing, which saw some houses going for £500 per week and some increasing in rent by over £100 in a year many students felt they could only rely on college accommodation.
Durham Tenants Union Executive Committee which has worked on issues surrounding housing said, “Durham University has announced an increase in the cost of college accommodation, the increase is 10.3%. Meanwhile, the maintenance loan for students has only increased by 2.8%. This is absolutely unacceptable, the housing situation in Durham was already completely untenable, with rent costs being too high and the conditions of the housing being abysmal.
“Despite all this, the University has still pushed through this increase – they clearly do not care about students during this difficult time, and they clearly do not care about the terrible housing situation they are now actively contributing to with this increase. It is time to show them how angry we are.”
Palatinate have found that college residence charges have increased by over 54% over the past decade; in the 2013/2014 academic year a standard catered room with shared bathroom cost £5955.
Meanwhile the maximum government student maintenance loan has only increased by 2.8% to £9978 whilst living away from home outside London. Students on the maximum maintenance loan in 2023-2024 will only have £822 to live on for the entire year. This amounts to £21.08 per week during the 39 week contract.
The 2023/2024 academic year will also be the first time when 30 week contracts have been advertised as an option. On the University website, Durham University has advertised 30 week contract options for term only and 34 week contracts ‘(shorter license)’ – these costs are priced at £15 and £8 more a week, respectively.
Students have raised concerns regarding why there are higher charges for students to sign shorter contracts and lack of inclusivity and transparency regarding the decision behind this.
The anger voiced over this has been echoed by Presidents’ Committee (PresComm), a group representing the presidents and Senior people of all Junior Common Rooms in Durham, In a statement to Palatinate they said, “JCR PresComm is disappointed with the decision to inflict an extortionate increase in college accommodation fees of 10.3% upon the student body. This is just the latest in a long series of increases over the past decade, and further compounds one of the most prevalent obstacles students face whilst joining and being a part of Durham University.
“When we consider the current financial climate, between the Cost-of-Living Crisis, Housing Crisis, and a pitiful increase in the maintenance loan of 2.8%, students are worn out. This 10.3% increase is the final straw. However, it is not too late for our voices to be heard and to make the university listen to us.”
The outrage from students has led Durham Students’ Union, Durham Tenants Union. Durham University Labour Club and PresComm to jointly organise a Cut the Rent protest at 1pm on Saturday 28th January on Palace Green. This was done with the support of other student associations and societies such as the Durham Labour Club, Durham People of Colour Association and Durham Student Protest.
Their demands are:
- A reversal of the planned increase in the cost of college accommodation.
- A fee cap for college accommodation which is calculated relative to the maintenance loan.
- A further increase to the amount of college accommodation available for returning students.
- The University to host a public meeting with student leaders and student groups about the above issues
When contacted by Palatinate to address concerns raised by students, the University chose not to add to their initial statement.
In their initial statement they said “The University has approved a 10.3% increase in both accommodation and catering charges. As you will be aware, the University is experiencing rises in our operating costs in the current economic climate.
“We have tried to keep increases to our accommodation and catering charges as low as possible, and to make sure that college-managed accommodation remains competitively priced in relation to private accommodation in Durham City.
“The University has an agreement with the Students’ Union that accommodation and catering charges will increase by no more than inflation (RPI) each year. This year, mindful of the exceptionally high rates of inflation, we have worked hard to keep the increases in accommodation and catering charges to 3.1% below the latest RPI figure. The increases to our accommodation and catering charges will not cover the rises in our operating costs.
“For any students still unable to find a room for next academic year, there will be a contact email available from Monday 13 February to provide support and guidance in finding accommodation.
“The university is aware of the pressures of cost of living on students and is investing significantly in the Durham Grant Scheme, supporting students from low-income families. The Scheme has been increased by 10% this year and will increase by up to 13.6% in academic year 2023/24.
“This means that from next academic year, home undergraduates who do not already have an undergraduate degree and who have a household income of less than £30,000 as assessed by Student Finance England (or equivalent) will receive a Durham Grant of £2,500. Similar students, who have a household income of between £30,001 and £47,200, will receive a Durham Grant of between £2,495 and £780.
“Overall, we are investing an additional £600,000 in the Durham Grant Scheme this year, with an additional investment of £900,000 next year. This will take our annual spend on the Durham Grant Scheme to c.£7.5 million next year. The Durham Grant is payable in addition to government funding, and eligible students do not have to pay it back.
“In addition, the University offers to all students who need to bridge financial gaps support grants of up to £6,000 per annum on a planned or urgent basis. We are in discussion with student leaders about the best way to promote and target these grants.
“We also have instant access funds for students in urgent need of financial assistance. These funds allow students to obtain shopping and catering vouchers, or cash.
“We will continue to invest in measures to support students. There are already a number of other initiatives available, including free breakfast clubs and the ‘Too Good to Go’ surplus food scheme. Full details can be found on the Cost of Living Hub: Cost of Living Hub – Durham University.
“Students who are experiencing difficulties should contact their College in the first instance, where they will find support.”
Image Credit: Emily Doughty