‘What the f***ing hell is non-staff?’ Students’ protest calls for freeze in college fees

Students protested outside the Bill Bryson Library yesterday (23rd February) against the rise in college accommodation fees and the lack of clarity in the reasons given for the rise of almost 8.5%.

Durham Students for University Reform (DS4UR) organised the “Day of Action”, which included 140 students during the busiest moment of the protest.

The demonstration began outside the Bill Bryson Library, before moving through the Palatine Centre. Students displayed banners with phrases such as “£7k it’s not ok”, “inflation = 1% NOT 8%” and “freeze the fees”.

The protesters were vocal, singing chants including “what the fucking hell is non-staff” and “I’m freezing, why aren’t my fees?”.

During the protest, speeches were given by various society presidents and officers from both colleges and the Students’ Union, including by DSU president Dan Slavin.

Continue reading to see a video of the protest.

Following the protest Mark Barratt, president of St. Aidan’s College, spoke to The Bubble.

He said the number of students from Aidan’s committing to the protest was “absolutely fantastic”, with students being “rapturous” about there being an outlet for them to “show their disapproval for the lack of clarity and explanation” of the accommodation fee rises.

He also described how, last week, St. Aidan’s JCR passed a motion via referendum resolving to “condemn the rise in accommodation fees”, “support democratic reform of Durham University’s governing institutions increasing direct student involvement” and “support the ‘Accommodation Fees Day of Action”. Trevelyan College JCR also passed a similar motion on Sunday.

DS4UR’s protest called for: a 2-year freeze of accommodation fees; greater transparency with regard to the fees; and reform of Durham’s governing structures so as to give students opportunities to be involved with setting the fees.

The demonstration follows an announcement in an email to students on 28th November announcing increases of around 8.5% for those in catered accommodation and 9% for those in en-suite rooms.

This means that a standard let in 2015–16 will cost £6,819, which amounts to an increase of £530 on this academic year, and an en-suite room will cost £7,104, compared to £6,523 in 2014–15.

Explanations of the rise in fees are described as “confusing, misleading and ambiguous”. The University has still not made it clear what “non-staff” actually means.

Barratt added: “There has still been no explanation as to what measures are being put in place to enable prospective students from low socio-economic backgrounds to attend the University.

“If nothing is done about this, Durham will very quickly become the elitist and exclusive establishment that it is often accused of being.”

In December of last year, the Durham Student’s Union launched a petition calling on the University to reconsider the increases. They have also sought to clarify the meaning of some of the terminology used in the presented cost breakdown.

DS4UR have stated that if the University does not respond, they are considering further action that could include a boycott of the National Student Survey and action during University Open Days in March.

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