Durham’s pitiful intake of working class students is a disgrace

What is to be done?

Durham was recently ranked the third worst university in the country for its intake of working class students. This is a depressing statistic but something we already knew. Durham is home to an off-putting elitism in its culture and its student body.

However, rather than this being merely the legacy of a long history of privilege, this is an image often proudly perpetuated by university bureaucrats and managers. This can be seen in the countless fee hikes and subsequent student protests in recent years.

University College first admitted women in 1987

There is legal requirement for each UK university that no more than 40 per-cent of its undergraduate intake come from private schools (7 per-cent of UK students attend private schools). For years, the extent of Durham’s diversity policy was to try to avoid breaking this law – not always succeeding.

By focusing on the state-private school balance, and little else, Durham was able to meet its required state school intake with pupils from grammar schools and gentrified state schools. This could be done at the exclusion of making the University more widely accessible to genuinely working class students, LGBT students, students of a BME background and students with disabilities.

Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge has announced that increasing diversity and access at Durham is one of the “top priorities” of the University’s new academic strategy. And yet, the University has yet to spell out any substantive measure by which it hopes to achieve this.

A window cleaner works on the glass roof over the main lobby

Meanwhile, Durham continues to promote itself during Open Days and in printed literature for its elite DU Sports and a college experience based on a culture of gowned formals and arcane tradition. Spending decisions by the University will reflect these biases

The outreach programmes that do exist struggle to succeed on the sheer cost of studying at Durham. A teacher from a local school that receives preferential offers from Durham recently told student protesters that her pupils meet their offers and would like to attend Durham but know they cannot afford the £7,000+ to live in college.

All of us can decry that Durham scores so shamefully for inclusion. The question to the University bureaucrats has to be, what do they intend to do about it?