University backtracks on Durham Grant Scheme

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Durham University has reversed its decision to reduce the value of the Durham Grant Scheme, instead resolving to keep the bursary at its current amount of £2,000.

The Durham Grant provides a non-repayable sum of £2,000 per year to undergraduates whose household income is less than £25,000. The bursary acts as a subsidy to accommodation costs if the students are living in College, and a bank transfer if living out.

The University had planned to decrease the value of the grant to £1,800 for 2016 applicants after talks with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The University released a statement over its decision, stating that the OFFA “encouraged the University to move its financial commitment away from bursary support to widening participation activity such as the University’s supported progression scheme.”

However, the University said they “took note of the subsequent Government announcement that the Student Loan Company will no longer offer maintenance grants but will provide higher value student loans instead.

“As a consequence, the University decided to maintain the value of the Durham Grant scheme bursary for 2016 entrants at £2,000.”

Kamila Godzinska, Publicity Officer for the Durham University Conservative Association, was “delighted” at the news, claiming that the “colossal accommodation fees mean that students now have to pay over £1,500 more than the maximum student loan provides them with.

“This seriously affects people from low-income backgrounds, who in some cases simply could not pay the remainder of the fees.

“The University’s decision not to lower the Durham Grant will hopefully stop such students from crossing Durham off as a plausible university option,” Godzinska said.

The decision comes after the University increased College accommodation fees to over £7,000 for a standard, catered room for the 2016/17 academic year.

The rise in fees prompted protest amongst students, and resulted in the ‘Funeral for Accessible Education’, organized by Trevelyan College Left Society, in December last year.

In June, George Osborne revealed plans to scrap the maintenance grant, which offered students with a household income of less than £25,000 the amount of £3,387 a year, in favour of loans.

He told the House of Commons that, from the 2016/17 academic year, “we will replace maintenance grants with loans for new students—loans that only have to be paid back once they earn over £21,000 a year”, and which will be available to the value of £8,200.

Jasmine Simms, Executive Member of the Durham Left Activists (formerly known as Trevelyan College Left Society) labeled the Chancellor’s decision “despicable”, and “symptomatic of an ideological attack being carried out by our government against accessible public higher education and against the working classes.”

She continued to argue that while the group are “pleased” by the University’s reversal of their decision to lower the Durham Grant, “even with the Durham Grant kept at this rate, bursarial support is still particularly weak at Durham University when compared with other universities.

“Poor bursary provision, increases in international fees, and the already extortionate and unjustifiable high costs of College accommodation are all having severe and negative effects on accessibility. These effects can be seen in the extremely undiverse student body.”

She concluded with the claim that the University “has further to go before it comes anywhere close to meeting an acceptable threshold for accessibility and/or diversity. DLA will continue to escalate our campaigns until this is no longer the case.”

This attitude was reiterated by Jade Azim, Co-Chair of Durham University Labour Club, who questioned how the decrease could have been in consideration, and claimed that whilst the DULC is “relieved” at the result, the University “has no real plan for mitigating the effects of the maintenance grant cuts.”

“The grant was reduced by a staggering £1,000 last year. This, alongside the vast increase in accommodation fees, is going to be devastating for lower and middle-income students and may have a detrimental impact on the already woeful record of the University.”

Azim also argued that “we cannot accept the ordinary justifications of budgetary constraints when we are the third highest spenders on artwork and the Vice Chancellor’s pay is hidden in the mist”, highlighting the recent controversy over the fact that Durham University has spent £2.6 million on artwork between 2010 and 2015.

On behalf of the DULC she concluded, “we cannot offer our gratitude—only a belligerent sigh of relief. We must campaign for the full restoration of the Durham Grant instead.”

Photograph: Rose Innes

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