The hidden costs of Freshers’ Week

By and

First year students are expected to pay an average of £212 for items like Junior Common Room (JCR) levies, Freshers’ Week wristbands, and gowns when arriving in college.

A study by Palatinate into JCR-related costs found that Hatfield College was the most expensive, with the JCR levy, gown, and Freshers’ Week wristband totaling to £310, whilst St Chad’s students were only expected to pay £148.

The average cost of a three-year JCR levy in 2023 was £153, the lowest being St Mary’s at £126 and the highest Hatfield at £220.

Ten colleges had a Freshers’ Week price of £30 or over, covering wristbands, event tickets, and club nights.

The highest was St Chad’s College, which had an induction week charge of £63 for first-year students. Only St Aidan’s and Trevelyan had no “wristband” ticket – Trevelyan College only had two paid club events, culminating to around £11.

A Durham University spokesperson told Palatinate that “Welcome and orientation activities are not priced or planned centrally. These are led by JCRs and local college representatives, hence why these differ by college as they are tailored for the community by the community.”

A spokesperson from the Hatfield Low Income and State School Community told Palatinate that, “It is undeniable that the cost of Freshers’ Week across the University is something that needs to be addressed.

“However, Students at Hatfield have access to a wide range of support through the college. One example is the Hatfield bursary which covers the JCR levies, gym membership, gown fee and Freshers’ wristband, as well as an entertainments ticket to our summer ball for each year and a dining ticket in your final year for those under a certain income threshold. We also have a partial bursary which covers the levy.”

College bursaries can vary from covering just the JCR levy to including gowns, events tickets, and gym memberships, often determined by income similar to the Durham Grant.

Similarly, a senior member of the Josephine Butler JCR executive said: “I am constantly impressed by the innovative work done by the common rooms to extend support and advice to those who need it.

“At Josephine Butler, for example, we have introduced a payment plan for JCR levy which allows members to pay for their levy in three instalments over the first year of study in line with student finance payment dates. We also have our JCR Access Fund which allows members to apply for discounted event tickets.”

However, they also acknowledged that “there is an expectation of common rooms to provide the exceptional levels of wider student experience that we are known for in the midst of a cost of living crisis in which we are all seeing prices continually increase.”

“Students at Hatfield have access to a wide range of support through the college”

Hatfield JCR

In gowned colleges, the average price for a gown this year was £52.40. The most expensive was £60 for a gown at Hatfield College, and for non-JCR members of South and John Snow.

Seven colleges had alumni networks that students were “encouraged” to buy: the Grey Association was the highest at £51, whilst University College had a total of £55 worth of Castle Society donations for students to pay.

Similarly, only Castle and St Cuthbert’s offered gym memberships as part of the JCR Levy – other Colleges’ gym memberships varied from £20 to £80 for JCR members and from £40 to £130 for non-JCR members.

Durham University gives a composition fee grant to each student common room every year, which varies between £10,000-£16,000 for a JCR and £2,000-£4,000 for a Middle Common Room (MCR).

Similarly, donors and University grants provide over £80,000 worth of grants for the “lowest-income students” to contribute towards student experience.

“Common rooms do a fantastic job in the face of huge challenges around financial sustainability, something the vast majority of students recognised as an issue for the University to address in last year’s referendum”

Dan Lonsdale

Dan Lonsdale, President of Durham Students’ Union (DSU), spoke to Palatinate about the rising costs facing Freshers: “It is hugely important that the collegiate experience is accessible to every student. No student should be excluded from it on the basis of price. Unfortunately, we know Durham can often be incredibly inaccessible, with students facing a cost of living and cost of learning crisis.”

He continued, “The barrage of initial costs during Freshers’ Week can, at times, be framed as ‘mandatory’ purchases; this is something everyone should reflect on and make sure they find the line between properly advertising the full range of college life, and accidentally exploiting uninformed students who may feel pressured into paying for something like the levy,” he continued.

He also raised the amount of work put in by Common Rooms despite rising financial costs: “Common rooms do a fantastic job in the face of huge challenges around financial sustainability, something the vast majority of students recognised as an issue for the University to address in last year’s referendum.

“The reality is that they exist inside a model which is not given enough support by the University and have to make ends meet somehow. The University loves the idea of being a collegiate university but, in my view, seems unable to reconcile this idea with the significant cost of running it.”

He continued, asking whether the University should take more responsibility for college funding: “Are colleges merely an elaborate accommodation provider, or are the University committed to helping common rooms provide the best experience of college life they can, which attracts so many students to Durham? If the answer is the latter, I’d invite the University to consider that colleges are worth the increased investment, particularly if it means that students pay less – even if it makes them a ‘loss’ on the balance sheet.”

“As a University, we’re very proud of our collegiate-based Wider Student Experience offering and invest a huge amount every year into the wider student experience”

Durham University

Speaking to Palatinate, a Durham University spokesperson said that, “As a University, we’re very proud of our collegiate-based Wider Student Experience offering and invest a huge amount every year into the wider student experience (through our colleges, the Enrichment Directorate and the Student Support and Wellbeing Directorate).

“We spend around £17 million per year. That includes over £200,000 to JCRs. We also provide a significant contribution to the Students’ Union (£1.2m in the Academic Year 23/24).

“Any student experiencing financial difficulties should contact their College Student Support Office who will be able to help them access the schemes and programmes at their college and direct them to University-wide programmes, schemes and support services available.”

In response to this, Dan Lonsdale, SU President, continued in saying that: “Students see their student-run communities struggling to cover their costs and remain accessible.

“If you want things to succeed, if you want things to be accessible, then investing in them at an appropriate level, consistently, over time goes a long way!”

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3 thoughts on “The hidden costs of Freshers’ Week

  • Did the authors of this article take into account that Hatfield JCR is a separate charitable organisation, registered with the Charity Commission – unlike other JCRs (although there are others who are charitable organisations).

    Reply
  • Cheer up. The vast, vast majority will have mummy and daddy stumping up the cash. They havent got the public school fees to pay anymore. Many of the other students will be from comps in posh areas whose mum and dad are well off anyhow. Focus on the tiny minority who havent got wealthy parents – help them out

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