University set to introduce new Post-Offer Visit Day

By Sophie Gregory 

The University is set to introduce an additional, non-residential Post-Offer Visit Day with the aim of removing “potential barriers in participation faced by under-represented student groups.”

Following a report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency earlier this year, which highlighted that nearly a third of Russell Group universities have seen a drop in admission from students from poorer backgrounds, the new Post-Offer Visit Day will be piloted to Durham offer holders for the first time in February 2017.

The University told Palatinate that the new, non-residential Post-Offer Visit Day will not replace the existing residential Post-Offer Visit Day held in the Easter vacation, but will exist alongside it.

“The development follows feedback that prospective students would like to see a non-residential option,” the University said in a statement.

“In addition, we have learnt that people would like the opportunity to visit the University earlier in the year as this helps to them to make an informed decision. We have a duty to ensure that anyone holding an offer with the University is provided with a suitable opportunity to visit and we have therefore revised our offering.”

A working group was established in 2015 with the objective of increasing the number of Visit Days to Durham to help ensure that “a diverse mix of prospective students are able to attend”.

Following consultation with various bodies, the University agreed that a representative from the JCR Presidents Committee (PRESCOMM) and two College staff members should be part of the working group.

They join representatives from the academic faculties, the Colleges Office, Durham Students’ Union, and the Student Recruitment and Admission Office.

The University’s plans have come under criticism from various members of College JCRs, with questions raised over whether funding will be provided to JCRs to tailor activities that would reflect respective College experiences.

“Where the University asks JCRs to put on events for Post Offer Visit Days, funding will be made available,” the University told Palatinate. “If the JCRs have suggestions for other activities that may form part of the visit days, then the University will consider requests to fund those activities.”

Further, it has been suggested that departmental time has been prioritised over time spent in College, despite this being viewed as one of the significant parts of Durham University’s student experience.

In order to ensure that the College experience as part of the new Post-Offer Visit Day is of a high standard, the JCRs requested that they take place during a weekend. Despite this request, departments disagreed and as it stands, they will occur during the week.

Concerns have also been raised about the timing of the new Post-Offer Visit Day, which will take place prior to the prospective students being allocated a College. It has been argued that, as a result, the College experience cannot be tailored to what students will genuinely experience when enrolled at Durham University.

The University has defended its decision to run the new Post Offer Visit Day earlier in the year, as they claim that, from feedback, they “have learnt that people would like the opportunity to visit the University earlier in the year as this helps them to make an informed decision.”

David Jones, current JCR President of Grey College, said that the plans are for “a flashy but inappropriate open day which will pressure people into firming for the wrong reason,” and suggested that the University’s consultative process showed “essentially, a lack of respect for the collegiate experience” and the importance of the system. However, talks of boycotting the new plans were dropped.

He continued: “As a whole we [PRESCOMM] all support the idea of more accessible open days as these will be cheaper (non-residential so no cost), but the current method of consultation is very much departments taking priority.” Jones also projects that “dropout rates will massively increase as a result next year” if the new Post-Offer Visit Day is poorly managed.

Photograph: Venus Loi

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