Is Durham University pricing out its students?

‘The university clearly does not care about working-class students, or it would not shut them out’


Durham University has announced yet another price hike in its accommodation fees for the upcoming academic year. The price of a standard, single, catered room has risen from £7,422 to £7,672, while the cost of a single, catered, en-suite room has increased from £7,883 to £8,149. The cost of a self-catered standard room has risen from £5,195 to £5,370, and the cost of a self-catered en-suite room has risen from £5,655 to £5,846.

With the fees some of the highest in the country, is Durham University pricing some students out of an education?

The university has justified the 3.38 per cent price increase as the result of inflation, with the hike based on the Retail Price Index for the previous financial year. The Retail Price Index for June 2017-2018 was 2.4 per cent. The last time the Retail Price Index was more than three per cent was March 2012, according to the Office of National Statistics.

David Evans, Postgraduate Academic Officer, Josephine Butler, told The Durham Tab: “It’s a fudge of the numbers. The university bases the increase on RPI as it’s the higher of most inflation measures – it’s even a measure that the government has recommended companies stop using. When you get to the higher levels of the university, it is clear that the university cares more about reputation, not education.”

“I come from a single-parent family, and I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to come to Durham now,” Undergraduate Academic Officer Saul Cahill, Grey, told The Durham Tab: “It’s a shame and it’s unfair.”

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Durham University ranks fourth in the least diverse universities in the UK, according to The Times, while the BBC reports that Durham University ranks seventh for most class inequality in the UK for 2018. Furthermore, only 14.2 per cent of students are working class, while only 6.8 per cent are from deprived areas.

Roughly one third of Durham students have been privately educated, many times more than the UK average, where seven per cent of students have been privately educated. Moreover, the population of Durham students who went to selective state schools stands at 54.6 per cent.

Sam Johnson-Audini, Castle, said: “The accommodation fees play a large factor in terms of class diversity. The Durham culture also does not welcome people from lower income backgrounds. The university clearly does not care about them, otherwise it would not shut them out.

“You can see how Durham is toppling down the league tables, and this is due to students being less satisfied with their university experience. In first year I lived in the shoe box rooms in Moatside [an accommodation block in Castle] where the hot water frequently cut out. There were other people who had rats in their rooms. If you're going to attempt to raise the prices of accommodation, at least have decent rooms."

“The university is white-washed and very elitist in terms of money,” James Cochran, Cuths, told The Durham Tab. “Students are definitely being priced-out. When I was a fresher I paid around six grand to live here, and I remember thinking that it was expensive back then. Now it’s over eight grand – I would not have been able to afford that as a fresher. There's a lot of people who are simply not able to afford these prices."

Of Durham’s 16 colleges, only two offer the cheaper, self-catered package: Josephine Butler and St Cuthbert’s Society (Parson’s Field, a 15-minute walk away from the main college). As such, there is no self-catered representation on the Bailey itself, while Josephine Butler is at the top of the hill, meaning that the cheapest accommodation packages are decentralised and away from the city centre.

“If your parents don’t earn enough money, then you simply cannot afford to come to Durham,” said Max Kirk, St Aidan’s. “It’s pricing out working-class students. The university is raising its prices extortionately more than the current rate of inflation and there is no transparency as to where the money is going.”

Thomas Cox, St Aidan’s, commented: “You don’t even get your own room. Our accommodation fees don’t seem to go towards improving our own college. I don’t know where the money is going, or whether I am getting any benefits from it.”

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Various colleges have had rat outbreaks in the last year, including St Cuthbert's and Castle

At present, the university offers bursaries to those who come from low-income families, which the university classifies as a family with a household income of under £25,000 a year, dubbed the Durham Grant Scheme (DGS).

The DGS will pay a student up to £2,000 a year, with the usage of this money up to the student – be this for accommodation or general living costs. However, while accommodation prices continue to rise, the maximum DGS amount has remained the same, seemingly ignoring inflation rates.

The DGS eligibility criteria is deemed an ineffective system for some: “The £25,000 limit is a harsh cut-off. I’m from a working-class family with a household income of just over the limit, and so I have to pay full price. There needs to be a new system, with staggered amounts depending on household income to prevent people being left short. It’s not fair to say ‘oh these people get the two-thousand and these people don’t' when the margins are considered,” said Charlotte Elliott, St Aidan’s. “The DGS should rise with inflation, just as accommodation fees do. I don't know how the university thinks they can get away with it."

In response, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge said: “Like any other enterprise, the cost of running the University increases each year. College fees have been raised so as to reflect rising staff, utility, and building costs.

“However, we know some of our students face real financial pressures. We offer a bursary scheme, known as the Durham Grant Scheme (DGS). The DGS is available to Undergraduates – throughout their course – who are Home Students, studying their first degree, and who have a household income of less than £25,000 a year.

“We are constantly seeking to expand these forms of support, as much as possible.”

The university has also outlined how it is working to implement tapered bursary rates for students with a household income between £25,000 and £42,000.