College JCRs and presidents have been deeply critical of the University’s decision to impose a compulsory 38-week let on incoming students.
In an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins, JCR presidents criticized the effect the changes could have on student welfare, catering and the cost of accommodation. It also questioned whether there was any significant demand for a 38-week let amongst students.
The decision taken on 24 November 2010, will mean returning students can choose between a 33 and a 38-week let, whilst a 38-week let will be mandatory for incoming students.
Emily Warburton-Brown, Chair of JCR Presidents’ Committee, wrote: “We feel, very strongly, that the introduction of 38 week lets seems only to be a short-term solution to a problem where only a long-term strategy will do.
“It’s clear that there are a certain percentage of students who have opted to take 38 week lets, and we understand that a very small number of our constituents value them.
“However, those who choose to remain are offered a very different ‘student experience,’ one with only very limited self-catering facilities (with limited, or no scope to develop further facilities), or a non-existent (or as yet un-costed) catering package.”
Presidents’ Committee bluntly described 38-week lets as “like paying for a hotel for the week and not being able to use it on the Tuesday and Thursday.”
John Ashworth, Dean of Colleges at Durham University, was adamant that 38-week lets will improve the student experience.
He said: “We hope the move will enhance the student experience by offering a flexibility which allows students to access their rooms during non-term times, except during periods of college closures such as Christmas, where special arrangements will continue to be made for those students in Durham at that time.
“This means that students will be able to leave and return to college when they choose, if for example they have a study or personal need which requires them to be in Durham during vacations.”
Durham Students’ Union (DSU) President, Sam Roseveare, told Palatinate that “the decision was not subject to any meaningful consultation, it is not supported by a large number of college staff and it represents an additional charge for something that students don’t want, or in most cases need.
“It’s a bit like being charged for the packaging around a product, and whilst this doesn’t affect current students, it represents a bad deal for future ones.”
Whilst the open letter acknowledged the present financial climate and the significant cost of Colleges Division, it expressed grave concerns about the effect the plans will have on student welfare and the perceived lack of foresight on the part of the university regarding the issue.
“The lack of welfare support, both in colleges and centrally in Durham is something that does not seem to have been considered.
“During term-time, students have the support of the Senior Tutor, President, Nightline and the counselling service. These are important services that help add to the ‘Durham Difference.’ If we are to offer 38 week lets, it is important to keep these services running as well, especially as Easter can be a very stressful time for students as it is just before the examination period.”
Four College JCRs (Hatfield, Mary’s, St. Cuthbert’s, and Trevelyan College) have mandated to fight against the proposal.
Postgraduate Officer Ian Williamson added his voice to the opponents of compulsory 38-week lets.
“From a postgraduate perspective, we have been complaining about the lack of out-of-term facilities for a number of years, and any extra residents in colleges will simply compound these problems.
“The University’s handling of this issue once again demonstrates that not everyone in Old Shire Hall is singing off the same hymn sheet when it comes to improving the student experience.”
St. Cuthbert’s Society JCR President: “Cuths JCR is disappointed that the University intends to squeeze extra money out of students by making an rarely used existing facility compulsory.”
Trevelyan College JCR President: “38 week lets are purely and simply a stealth method of slapping £500 or so onto our already sky high bill. It is clear that Colleges Division want to raise money, but why do it in this most un-transparent of ways? With tuition fees on the rise, students simply cannot afford to be paying for things that will be of no use whatsoever to them. If the university had done their research thoroughly, they would have found that the demand for 38 week lets is very low at best, and would therefore have realised that they would be charging the vast majority of students for something they would not be using. Furthermore, even if the take-up for some reason soared, then the level of student support available in termtime would just not be provided in the holidays. Either way, 38 week lets do not provide good value for money in Durham.
It frustrates me greatly that senior figures within the University seem to think that they have consulted students, when in fact they have done nothing of the sort. They can’t even claim to have based this decision on consultation conducted a few years ago (as they often do), since Trevs JCR at least voted against 38 week lets three years ago. We have spoken out against 38 week lets through so many mediums, and yet the University still does not appear to be listening.”