The problem with 38 week lets

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Durham University’s recent plan in which incoming students are required to pay for compulsory 38 week lets is an issue which cannot have escaped the notice of most students at Durham, and naturally is a controversial topic amongst the student body. Many have angrily claimed it is an example of the University squeezing yet more money out of already stretched students, and whatever the University’s motives are, it certainly hasn’t come across well at a college level.

A large factor in the resistance is that we already have a working system in place. Whilst it is certainly true that longer lets are useful for some enthusiastic returning students working over the holidays, or for those who come from overseas and thus for whom travelling is complicated, these people already have a system in place which allows them to opt for a 38 week let. However, an issue already exists here in that catering in colleges is decreased during holiday time, with most having little or no self-catering facilities. The University’s current plans have not yet taken account of this. If those in power want to impose a permanent change on student accommodation, their duty is to implement it properly, with it considered first and foremost from a student’s point of view. Having not consulted the real people who will be affected, it seems to many that the University has failed to communicate with those it ought to be serving.

The change will be beneficial to a select few, although useful to those who have encountered the interesting and somewhat challenging problem of struggling to take most of your worldly belongings home with you on a busy train. However, is it a problem worth paying a compulsory £500 per year to avoid? The University has made assumptions about the way the majority of students spend their holiday time. Of course, when you are a returning third year, you perhaps might wish to spend more of your holiday time staying in Durham, as dissertations and summatives loom. However, most first years and many second years have no real desire or need to be here outside of term time, and to assume that they do is an oversight. Providing students with alternative choices in order for them to spend their time and money wisely is what the University should really be doing, and the new rule is ultimately an unwise financial move for most.

The President of the Durham Students’ Union has pointed out that outside of term time, students will not have access to their Senior Tutors, the Nightline service or College Welfare. Perhaps issues which are less pressing than the lack of college food, they nevertheless compound the view that the University has not considered the practical implications of their decision. The lack of support over the holidays will make some of those who stay feel abandoned, making remaining in Durham an impossible option. Thus, their money is wasted.

Catering facilities and a support network are benefits of our collegiate system. Take these away, and there is a strong argument to live out rather than move back to college if you need a room out of term time. Living in halls in the holiday period when your peers have gone home can be a lonely time, and the new plan hasn’t thus far been an attractive one: our incentives to support this measure are few and far between.

Another problem we have not heard a solution to is that in some colleges, many of the best rooms are let to the public over the Easter holidays as the college hosts events and conferences.

What would the situation be for those living in such rooms?

Whatever your views about the recent tuition fee rises, no one can deny that in the current climate students are being stretched further than ever before. The post-recession graduate situation remains gloomy, with unpaid debts looming on the horizon for many. Whilst £500 perhaps doesn’t seem much compared to the £9,000 incoming students will be paying for tuition, it is the principle of the imposition by the University that people have taken issue with.

It is admirable that the University is working to attempt to provide an increasingly flexible experience for students however the 38 week let rule requires some further consideration from those making the crucial decisions. Perhaps next time a little communication will go a long way.

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