By Josh Smith
A protest organised by Durham Students for University Reform (DSUR) took place outside the Bill Bryson library on Monday 23rd February.
The DSUR are demanding a two-year freeze of accommodation fees, greater transparency from the University and reform of the University’s governing structures so that students are involved in the setting of accommodation fees.
Harry Cross, co-chair of DSUR, spoke to Palatinate before the protest, saying:
“By organising the largest student protest at Durham in years, we aim to leave no doubt as to the strength of student opinion on this issue.
“College accommodation fees in Durham have risen over 20% in recent years, with a knock-on effect on the level of rent charged by landlords in the city, impacting both students and residents.”
Cross described the University as “the largest landlord in Durham City” and claimed that it “seems more concerned with its external reputation than the opinion of students.”
The protest started around 13:00 to calls of “freezes the fees”. 70 students later marched through the ground floor of the Palatine Centre and were heard chanting “student homes, not bankers’ loans”.
William Pinkney-Baird, who unsuccessfully ran for Durham Students’ Union Activities Officer earlier this month, spoke to the attendees:
“The new Vice-Chancellor will need to listen to our demands.
“If they don’t, they will get more than they bargained for.”
Sofia Hewson, co-chair of DSUR, praised the protest’s success in “raising awareness of student objections to accommodation fee rises.”
Speaking to Palatinate, Cross called the protest “an overwhelming success” and said DSUR have been “flooded with messages of support from across the student body.”
Cross also stressed the need for the DSUR to continue to put their message across.
“Those who attended have expressed a desire to remain mobilised and keep up the pressure on the Vice-Chancellor and the candidates for his succession.”
DSUR has also threatened to protest at University open days in March and boycott the National Student Survey if executive staff do not respond to demands to freeze accommodation fees.
“JCRs, the Students’ Union and the student press have called on the goodwill of the University to engage in transparent and constructive dialogue, but this has been unforthcoming.
“We therefore feel justified in taking more concrete forms of action.”
Durham Students’ Union President, Dan Slavin, also addressed the protesters: ‘I’m pleased to see so many people here today. This shows that Durham students aren’t apathetic.
“It is important that students can show that they feel annoyed at the University, and I hope that this brings that about.”
Speaking to Palatinate, Slavin said: “We agree with the cause, this is something that we’ve wanted to support throughout the Union.
“As a Union we would like to help DSUR to communicate their message to the student body and welcome open communication.”
Responding to the protests, a spokesperson from the University defended their approach to accommodation fees.
“As a University we have been transparent about our costs and remain competitive in terms of our accommodation pricing.
“We continue to work closely with the elected student body and although we may have differences of view from time to time, we agree on much too, and are determined to work together in delivering the very best educational experience for all our students.”
When asked if they believe DSUR plans to protest on open days would be justified, the University simply offered the reply: “No.”
The University also said that protests are “one way of getting the views of some students across. Other ways include working through those elected to enact such representational roles.”
Photographs: William Pinkney-Baird