University to review Durham Grant scheme

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In a response to questions posed by Durham Students’ Union (DSU) about the rising costs of accommodation fees, the University has announced that it will undertake a “review of the level” of the Durham Grant scheme.

The response, written by Jeremy Cooke OBE, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Colleges and Student Experience, said that “We do recognise that for students on lower incomes and in receipt of loans the [cost] pressures are significant. These students can access a number of support systems”.

“The University continually assesses the support provided by these schemes and in response to this specific set of questions, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Education has been asked to review the level of the Durham Grant”. In response, DSU said that “We look forward to hearing the result of the review into the Durham Grant, but more must be done to support students with increasingly unsustainable costs”.

Further, DSU noted their disappointment that “concerns about the effect of accommodation fees on the University’s equality, diversity and inclusion goals remain unaddressed: a university that students cannot afford to attend is not an inclusive university”. The University was asked “What Equality, Diversity and Inclusion impact assessments were carried out in relation to this decision?”, but this was not referenced in the response.

Currently, new home undergraduates who have a household income of £42,875 or lower are automatically eligible to receive some funding through the Durham Grant Scheme. Those on the lowest incomes (less than £25,000) are eligible for the maximum level of grant, which is currently set at £2,000. Those with an income between £25,000 and £42,875 can also receive various amounts of funding, with a minimum value of £200. The University strongly recommends recipients of the Grant to spend it towards paying for college accommodation.

“The Pro-Vice-Chancellor Education has been asked to review the level of the Durham Grant”

jeremy cook obe

As well as a review of the Durham Grant scheme, the University also says it will be reviewing the price of college accommodation when the body that sets those prices, the Pricing Fees and Awards Committee (PFAC), meets in September. DSU has been invited to attend the review, saying that “We’re thankful for the invite to join PFAC… for their discussion on next year’s fees, where we’ll be standing up for students against any further increase in fees”.

The reviews into the Durham Grant scheme and accommodation fees comes after the University increased the price of college accommodation by 4.1% for the 2022/23 academic year, with the cost of a standard catered room exceeding £8000 per year for the first time. This is despite the fact that the increase in government maintenance loan support will only increase by 2.3% next year.

Answering some of the 10 questions that DSU put to the University on accommodation prices, Cook defended the price increase by saying “When PFAC met in September 2021 to determine residence charges for 2022/23, RPI was 3.9%. This was the increase PFAC recommended. We published residence charges for the 2022/23 academic year online at the start of this year and have communicated them during undergraduate and postgraduate open days.

As we are all aware, costs of living, particularly energy and food, are rising rapidly – the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation is currently 11.1% for April. As the level of increase was set in September 2021, the resultant increase in residence income for 2022/23 will be significantly lower than will be needed to cover costs at present”.

Cook also explained that the reason there was no consultation with student leaders about this year’s price increase was because “Since 2017/18, and following consultation with Durham Students’ Union, the University has used RPI as the agreed measure when making residence charge changes. The agreement is that consultation with student leaders will only take place if the recommendation is to increase prices above RPI”.

Image: Durham Union

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