Because You Couldn’t Be Arsed- DSU Question Time

A round-up of the Question Time at the DSU

DSU Question Time

There’s something so quintessentially Durham about having your way to an important gathering blocked by the LARPers. Yet this happened today; on my way down to the bowels of the DSU, I found my way blocked by a large man with a beard, brandishing an axe. Christ, security’s really been dialled back these days. Yet I made it past, to bring you lucky people coverage of the DSU Question Time.

On the panel sat the V.C, Chris Higgins, the Deputy V.C Anthony Forster, DSU President Mike King, NUS Vice President Usman Ali and Education and Welfare Officer Scott Parker (no, not that Scott Parker), with the debate presided over by the always genial Archie Dallas, DSU DUCK officer, who fired audience questions at the unsuspecting quintet.

The main topics of the evening concerned the unpopular 38 week let proposal, the skyrocketing student fees and concerns over college communities and accommodation. All this was before a large Cuths contingent ambushed the VC with their complaints about their housing; they’ve been without hot water and heating for eight weeks, and in return have received scant consolation, the best news they’ve heard being that their college might also be chock-full of asbestos. I realise It’s not a fun time to be in Cuths, but this was a college matter, and there was very little the panel could do, and definitely not enough to sate the braying crowd.

The impression I got was that the Question Time raised more questions than it solved. Not that it was the VC’s fault. Professor Higgins was essentially put through the wringer, having answers demanded of him he couldn’t come up with. Then the Cuths lot went and put the asbestos-tipped boot in. His and Professor Forster’s answers to what we should expect now that we’re going to be paying three times as much amounted to saying not much, really. Whilst fees have rocketed, government support has been cut back, meaning that any student expecting three times the service will be sorely disappointed.

The university really appeared to be resting on its laurels, the official response to whether teaching would improve now that pupils were footing the bill being that teaching was fantastic anyway, top three standard- there’s no real improvement to be made, just making the departments more efficient, as wild-card panellist Ali consistently demanded.

As far as I could tell, most of the improvements being made are largely cosmetic, with an emphasis on what Mike King called ‘partnership and involvement’ between students and faculty, echoed by Prof. Forster’s promises of ‘more student representation.’ It seemed to be very much a case of the more things change, the more things stay the same; we don’t appear to be experiencing a radical overhaul at all, despite this overhaul being everywhere else.

What does appear to be being overhauled is accommodation. Apparently, just over 30%(!) of college accommodation is what’s known as ‘category D’, or known in the Queen’s English as a ‘sh*thole’. Higgins claimed that a process of improvement was ongoing, but the process is slow, due to the age of many of the buildings and planning permission required. So bad luck, Bailey dwellers, it’s going to take a bit of time for the gravy train to reach you.

For the longest time, Scott Parker seemed an appendix to the panel, but then a question arose that was entirely in his ballpark; what would be done to ensure a good college community, and what could be done to stamp out more distinctive college identities.

Parker stressed a balance of all traits, socio-economic, gender, ethnicity and subjects, pointing to the all-too-tragic cases of the insular Asian communities that seem to develop in college as a result of putting all the Chinese students in the same corridor, creating what Parker called in a moment of hyperbole, a ghetto. He (rightly) pointed out that this would have to stop, that we should stop treating the international students like cash-cows, instead integrating them properly, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Ali.

Regarding the second part of the question, Forster took the unprecedented move of chastising the audience, which seemed to be made up of JCR execs, claiming that over 30% of undergrad applicants don’t put down a college preference, which is utterly unacceptable in a collegiate university, and that if you want this to change, your JCRs should go off and do something about it. You can make your own mind up about whether that was needed, but I felt it was well placed.

Near the end, the elephant in the room was addressed; the 38 week let. Cue much awkward shuffling from both Higgins and Forster as King and Parker seemed to ambush them at the table, stressing that this was never agreed by the DSU, and that is was emblematic of a breakdown in trust in the faculty-student relationship, and that this might destroy college communities.

Higgins really started to look flustered. He said that there was no ready answer that could be given right now and more time was needed to implement a solution, and then Forster came up with an absolute gem; students were consulted regarding this issue, just none who were here. Indeed, as it turned out, it was only ex-DSU president Sam Roseveare who ever thought it was a good idea, for a fleeting moment. Cue more shuffling on stage, and a plea for more time to come up with answers.

And that was pretty much it. An underwhelming air of disappointment had hung over the event, as there was lip service paid, but no commitment to, sweeping changes. The 38 week let is still intact and there won’t be an overhaul of teaching, only more money to the DSU to implement a better student-faculty relationship. That’s all the immediate change we’re going to get.