By Luke Payne
Durham University has drafted a proposal to spend £1.5 million on maintenance of the homes of its College Principals and Masters, according to a confidential report leaked to Palatinate.
The document also highlights plans to buy or refurbish homes for three college heads, at the additional cost of several hundred thousand pounds.
Heads of Colleges and their families are provided homes paid for by Durham University as part of their employment contracts.
According to the leaked document, these homes must have a minimum of four bedrooms, as well as two large reception rooms, parking for at least one car and sufficient space outside for entertaining. It is further stipulated that the properties should be less than a fifteen-minute walk to their respective college site. However, these plans are a “draft specification”, and will be “considered in more detail to validate the necessity of certain features”.
The plans are a “draft specification”
In addition to the £1.5 million spend on maintenance, the leaked Operations Board report states that hundreds of thousands could be spent on the Principals of Ustinov, St Aidan’s, and John Snow Colleges, who require new residences.
The University has therefore rented a four-bedroom property for the Principal of Ustinov near Sheraton Park for the next twelve months. It is expected that purchasing a permanent residence in the future will cost in the region of £400,000-500,000. Two existing properties have been identified for refurbishment to accommodate the heads of St Aidan’s College and John Snow College. The refurbishment cost at St Aidan’s alone has been estimated at £189k.
Several houses assigned to College Principals have previously been refurbished to “provide accommodation suitable for senior university staff who are required to host social functions”.
The document cites the residence of the Master of Hatfield as a recent example of a refurbishment that required major work and incurred increased costs.
It also reveals that the University plans to develop four to six new colleges by 2027, which will require the acquisition of new properties for their College Principals, potentially costing a further £1.6M-£3M.
The document also reveals that university plans to develop four to six new colleges by 2027
However, the report recommends that the rental (as opposed to purchase) of property to be the preferred form for housing for Heads of College at the present time due to the financial situation faced by the University, and that “a suitable level of resource is allocated to the Colleges and Student Experience Divisional budget for this purpose”.
The President of the Students’ Union, Kate McIntosh, described the plans as “a ludicrous use of money, especially at a time when the University is looking to cut costs.
“At the meeting where this was discussed I made it clear that I do not believe the University can justify providing luxury homes for College Principals – how does it benefit all the students who are paying for it through their fees?
“When some student accommodation is in a dire state, it’s outrageous that anyone would consider using the money set aside to improve student rooms to buy new property, and I am relieved this decision was not taken.
“I’m also pleased that we decided not to spend money on the houses this year, but there are still questions to be answered about how we can justify such a high spend when accommodation for students is disappointing in terms of quality and cost.”
The document also raises concerns about the possibility that student accommodation bills will be used to pay for these costs as there is a risk that “student representatives will link increases in the student residence charges to the betterment of homes of Heads of College”.
The document also raises concerns about the possibility that student accommodation bills will be used to pay for these costs
Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) at Durham University, said: “The discussion at Op[eration]s Board was a confidential discussion that looked at possible future options to sustain our infrastructure to support the University policy of requiring Head of Colleges to live in appropriate university accommodation for the proper performance of their role.
“The University requires that Heads of College live in a property within ten minutes’ walk of the College and that the property is used for Durham University business purposes, including meetings, overnight stays and events.
“Heads of College play a vital role in the delivery of Durham University’s wider student experience and help facilitate the provision of 24/7 pastoral support whilst being available for the many social, sporting and development events that take place within colleges throughout the year.”
Image: Maddie Flisher