By Josh Preston
On nearly every house in Durham, just to the side of the front door, there will be a small arch-shaped enclave, sometimes with an old, rusted metal bar across it. Going virtually unnoticed, this bygone feature was for returning miners to scrape their shoes before coming home for tea.
Further vestiges of Durham’s mining past are sprinkled over the city – relics of an age never to return. In its place is a swelling student population which has quickly subsumed an old pit-town, and boasts of being one of the best higher education institutions in the country whilst seeking to expand further.
Vestiges of Durham’s mining past are sprinkled over the city
But at what cost? The question is how much responsibility the University has to a community it has both usurped and ironically saved. Without the University, Durham would be yet another deprived Northern town making ends meet from trickling tourism, providing £400m and 6,600 jobs. And yet, many feel that we’re losing what Durham is and was.
Hundreds of millions of pounds of investment
Culture and community are easy terms to scoff at, and in modern times have been demonised. This contempt will only continue whilst humanities are a shadow of their former selves and objective, globally orientated STEM subjects reign supreme.
But Durham has a people and a lineage stretching further back than St. Bede’s body in the Cathedral. We are not UCL, LSE, or any other metropolitan, urban institution: a blank slate ripe for corporate investment.
Durham is a UNESCO World Heritage site; it is a community of both locals and students.
Our sporting prowess, our events like DUCFS and our sprawl of societies are almost unparalleled. But I am reticent to give the University credit for what are student-motivated achievements. It is the system we’ve had that has led to us attracting such extraordinary individuals who have done so much, and which is being lost.
Durham is a community of both local and students
The reduction of college staff in the Operations Review has thrown chaos the Collegiate system’s way. This system is the only thing to differentiate Durham from its Russell Group competitors, and yet the administration
Bullish and poor decisions by administrators displaced over half of Trevs freshers this year, and did similar to Hatfield students the year before. The University’s ‘Master Plan’ intends to add 4,000 more students by 2027 from the current 19,000.
Can a small pit town deal with 21% more students
Even though Durham pledges to house 55% of students in University accommodation by then, it says little about local concerns. Can a small pit town deal with 21% more students when infrastructure barely accommodates the current crop?
Lack of housing, train seat shortages leaving people standing for hours, poor parking and excessive congestion cannot be fixed overnight, and maybe not even at all. Not to mention how even now students overwhelm and alienate homegrown locals.
But the University doesn’t give these issues
There was little to inspire undergraduates when his esoteric, self-aggrandising rhetoric made no mention of student satisfaction or the local area but merely lauded research, global appeal, and ‘diversity’.
Corbridge claims that ‘we do the student experience better than Oxbridge’, and this is
We are called the University of Durham, something which future plans fail to recognise
No one looks at Oxbridge for its glittering student experience. If this is the bar we try to surpass, it is rather low. It is a question of what this institution is. We are called the University of Durham, something which future plans fail to recognise.
To paraphrase David Goodhart’s book, The Road to Somewhere, this University certainly is a ‘somewhere’ – a locality, a place which defines and yet is also importantly defined by where it is. But the Administration treats us like ‘anywheres’, not taking concerns about Durham City seriously, with a global, dislocated identity in mind.
Perhaps, Durham ought to heed advice from St. Andrew’s, now ranked the best UK University by The Times Good University Guide, whilst Durham stays 7th due to abysmal student satisfaction scores.
With a similar historical past, but with merely 9000 students, St. Andrew’s is aware of its own identity and doesn’t seek to be something it is not.
Durham’s administration would do well to take note.
Image by Mrgarethm via Flickr