Students hold Alternative Open Day to offer a fuller picture of university experience


Planned in retaliation to the rising cost of college fees, which the organisers believe the University have failed to truly acknowledge, the Alternative Durham Open Days were launched in conjunction with an 18 page Alternative Prospectus to reject the positive bias of the official Open Days

The organisers, who consist of a coalition of student groups working alongside TU branch Durham Unite Community in addition to other grassroots activists, insist that they are not attempting to discourage students from applying to Durham University. Instead, they argue that they are giving a more wholesome picture of the university experience at Durham.

Jasmine Simm, one of the organisers, defined her role as answering questions put to her by prospective students and their parents honestly. She says:

“If they ask me about the Education undergraduate course, I will sing its praises. If they ask me about the English undergraduate course I will be similarly positive, but will also mention that first year is largely taught by PhD students on teaching contracts which is something which the University neglects to mention.”

Building on the ‘Funeral for Accessible Education’ held in November, the Alternative Open Days focussed on the cost of accommodation in Durham and also on the increase in fees for international students.

The response of the University’s Vice Chancellor Stuart Corbridge to the situation of a ‘consultation’ has been seen as inadequate, triggering the greater protest of the Alternative Open Days.

Figures, including that students at Durham pay 31.84% more in rent than their local counterparts, that there has been a  20% rise over the past three years of college fees and the £2,000 increase in fees for the incoming international cohort, are outlined in the Alternative Prospectus.

In addition to these figures, the Alternative Prospectus outlined the failure of Durham University to pay all of its employees the living wage and points to the increasing competition of houses among students.

Finance is not the only focus for the Alternative Open Days. As well as the honesty surrounding fees, the Prospectus drew attention to the feeling that there is a lack of consultation between the University and the wider community.

The Alternative Prospectus further attacked the University’s poor sexual assault policy. Though the organisers accept that some work has been done, they believe that more could be achieved and outline their ideas in their prospectus. Student safety issues, particularly in regards to alcohol, mental health and the river, are also highlighted.

Ethical and moral questions are further raised by the campaigners regarding the £1.5 million invested by the University in fossil fuels. The Freedom of Information request put forward regarding college fees detailed that one third of college rent is spent on ‘capital and borrowing expenditure’. It has been suggested that this money is thus spent on investment in morally ambiguous areas.

Despite their criticisms, many of the organisers affirmed that they have had a good university experience but they simply believed that the University had failed to respond adequately to their concerns. Their fears surrounding accessibility, particularly regarding funding, have been endorsed by notable alumni such as Tim Smit, Dan Cohn-Sherbrok and Dave Anderson.

The dates of the Alternative Open Days are 27th June and 2nd July.

Photograph: Charlotte Warmington 


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