I am the second generation of my family to go to University, following in the steps of my Mum who went over 30 years ago. My Mum was the first person in her family to go to University, getting on a train to Coventry from Newcastle station towards something completely new. She studied a degree very similar to one I do now, history, politics, and international relations, and did a dissertation so clever I still am impressed by it.
I grew up reading that dissertation, learning about its topic. It’s still on my bookshelf today and even now I don’t think my dissertation will be anywhere near as good as what my Mum wrote when she was a 21-year-old Undergraduate.
During my time at Durham, she has spent a lot of time hearing about what my life at Durham entails. She has mocked some of the weirder Durham traditions, from the gowned formals to matriculation and the concept of colleges. We have even discussed how much the academic field we both studied has moved on – the concept of constructivism in International Relations simply didn’t exist when she was at university.
However she has also heard me complain of the growing costs of Durham every year, living through my stress as I desperately tried to find a house for second and third year (biting back the suggestion of me moving home), the overwhelming cost of my JCR Levy, which she and my Dad had to initially pay as my student loan had not come through by that point, and much more.
She has also seen the direct comparisons of the costs of Durham vs other universities. My sister is studying in Liverpool, somewhere the average house price is much lower than at Durham. When she went to university, she only faced the normal costs of freshers’ week, not the extra costs I faced. She also, shock horror, was able to find a house over Easter, a time when almost all Durham students have signed.
My Mum went to university during a time where tuition fees did not exist and for her the financial side, though present was not as great as someone studying at Coventry today. For her the decision to go to Coventry did not saddle her with debt she would still be paying today. For her, though she had to work, it was doable.
If my Mum was facing the costs that have faced me going to university, especially at Durham, she would not have been able to afford to go to the University only 11 miles from where she lived. While the cost of the course would have been the same wherever she went the “Durham Difference” and the cost of living in the city would have made it inaccessible.
To have gone to Durham, my Mum would have had to live at home and commute in. The likelihood is, faced with the costs that even commuting means, she would not have gone.
It is a surprise to no one that Durham is becoming unaffordable. Palatinate has spent the last two years reporting on it, from the cost of sport to the cost of University-owned accommodation to the cost of formals. In this edition alone we report on the cost of private accommodation, the cost of freshers week and the lack of quality despite the growing cost of food in college accommodation.
Durham offers some support in terms of the Durham Grant and other cost-of-living support. When asked what other support they give they often mention the foodbank in the SU and talk to us about the Housing Code of Conduct. While they help the issue in the moment, they are yet to deal with the structural issues which are slowly making Durham University a two tiered experience.
I have seen the price of accommodation grow throughout my three years at the University. If I was a fresher starting this year, I likely would be living at home next year, cutting me off from many things that make the “Durham difference”. The freshers’ week I got for free now costs money, albeit less than many other Colleges charge.
Durham University is simply becoming more and more expensive each year, with the cost likely to rise next year. Like last year people are queueing hours to secure a house within their price range, with many more looking outside Durham for a solution. And for some prospective students, unlike my Mum 30 years ago, the ask of this expense will be too much and the “Durham difference” will simply be too much.
Illustration: Connie Harston