By Tom Mitchell
Durham students have once again voiced their discontent at rising college accommodation fees through a protest outside the Palatine Centre organised by the #RippedOff campaign.
On 18th October, the University announced a 3.5% hike in College accommodation fees. For some, this means college accommodation costs for undergraduates will next year exceed £8,000 for the first time.
Student anger stems principally from the fact that, in many cases, these fees exceed those of London universities (£7,200 at King’s College London and £6,279 at Imperial College London), despite the fact that the North East is the cheapest housing bracket in the UK.
This is compounded by the fact that the University cites “inflation” to excuse the price hike, with speakers at the protest saying there is a problem with “justification and transparency”.
Chants directed at the University management demonstrated student dissatisfaction. Choruses of “8k, not okay, make the greedy b**tards pay” and “Hild Bede is falling down, so bring our fees down” continued for 10 minutes after the official event.
The sentiment that the University is insensitive to the situation of students from lower income backgrounds was voiced, with George Stanbury, one of the organisers of the event, claiming that the problem is “systemic”.
“Over the last few years, there has been a very concerted effort to reduce support for people from lower-income backgrounds”.
Despite the passion demonstrated by those out on show, Durham students failed to turn out in force, with the number of protestors only just exceeding 100.
When asked why he thought this was the case, Stanbury said he feared “people associate wanting lower fees and protesting as a politicised left-wing thing” but added, “I think the rain also had something to do with it.”
However, the #RippedOff campaign say they will not be deterred. Stanbury says “higher accommodation fees is a student issue. You don’t have to be from a low-income background to want low accommodation fees.”
Owen Adams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), said:
“I appreciate the financial pressures faced by students and we are working with student representatives to review our charges. In particular the Residential Accommodation Differential Pricing Group is considering ways to achieve a greater range of charges via differentia pricing – a new model that could be introduced in 2019/20, if it is agreed.
“In addition, the Durham Grant is available to home undergraduates who have a residual household income of £25,000 or less as assessed by Student Finance England (or equivalent) and a College accommodation bursary is available to first year students for whom the SLC residual household income is between £25,000 and £35,000.
“Further information about the process of setting the residence charges for 2018/19 can be found on the website.”
Photograph: Tom Mitchell
[This post was edited at 15:17 on 30th November to include comment from Owen Adams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor]