Durham University Council have recently unveiled plans to relocate Ustinov College to a new development called Sheraton Park. Ustinovians (and other current students) are being asked for their thoughts on the proposal. Naturally, Ustinov itself is full of substantive argument about the merits of relocation, and so The Ustinovian is publishing a series of letters to the editor. Write to us at email@example.com.
First of all, for me personally, Ustinov College (and Howlands Farm) is a home away from home. As a single female from abroad, living in college accommodation enables me to have a community around me, never feeling alone. I know that I can call up the porters and college staff when something is wrong or I feel unsafe.
I was a member of Ustinov College when I completed my MA in 2010–11. When I was accepted for a PhD programme at Durham University in 2015, I immediately knew that I wanted to be a member of Ustinov College again and applied for accommodation at Howlands Farm.
I was initially worried about not being able to find a place to stay, as I started my programme in January, and finding accommodation from abroad can be quite tricky. Not to mention the fact that some landlords make international students jump through several hoops, for example, having them pay six months’ rent in advance. I was lucky and was offered an en-suite room at Howlands Farm.
The proposed move of Ustinov College to Sheraton Park will result in the loss of 200+ postgraduate college rooms. The university claims that postgraduate students will be accommodated in other colleges, but looking at the numbers, it does not add up. Together, all Durham City Colleges (excluding Ustinov College) have 650 rooms available for postgraduate students—all of which are rented out with a waiting list. Keep in mind that there are about 4,500 full-time postgraduate students enrolled at Durham University and there is already a huge lack for accommodation.
For the university then to say that they want to distribute postgraduates to other colleges and have a larger proportion ‘living out’ is insulting. It would have a negative impact on international postgraduate students’ living arrangements and student experience. Students will probably not choose to study in Durham if the university is not providing them with accommodation. Future students will have their Durham experience tainted by struggling to find a place to live, possibly in an unsafe area and without the support of a college community.
Being an international student in a foreign country can be very intimidating. However, living in Ustinov College is reassuring. The friendships made here, the community feeling, and the surroundings help immensely when it comes to settling in. Taking this away from future postgraduate students is not in line with the university’s vision and goals to enhance their students’ experiences.
At the moment, the university offers an accommodation guarantee for full-time postgraduate students in Durham City if they fulfil certain criteria. I wonder if this guarantee will still be given in the future when 200+ postgraduate college rooms have been lost? I also wonder if I would have chosen to study at Durham University if it wasn’t for their collegiate system and Ustinov College’s appeal as a live-in college.
I will begin by conceding some points. First, the move does seem as if it will be forced through regardless of our opposition. Second, it would be better for the administrative body of the University were Ustinov not to, as it was put, ‘kick up a fuss’ on our way out.
This, however, misses the point somewhat. Ustinov, as a community, does not exist for the comfort of the University administrators, nor to make undergraduates feel good about the mistreatment of postgraduates by their University. We were all undergraduates once, but we are all postgraduates now, and we do not deserve to be treated as second-class students simply by dint of having already gained a degree.
The University is probably going to move us. To use a rather tired line, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Why, though, should we do it the easy way? For whom are we making life easier?
Not the students who will be stuck with the diminished facilities. Not the hundred or so residents of Ustinov for whom there simply won’t be rooms at the Sheraton site. Not for those who will no longer be able to afford to live at Ustinov, with minimum accommodation prices rising by at least £740 per year.
The people who stand to benefit most from us going quietly are the university administrators, to whom we owe no favours. This move is being presented as a business decision. I suggest we make it clear to the university that treating the postgraduate community as expendable is very bad business indeed.
Pep highlights the contribution that Ustinov students, and PGR students in general, make to the university. The unpaid overtime, training, and teaching of undergraduates we do because we care about the students and the university. I’m afraid we have to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth here: as much as postgrads may care about the university, administrators are making it abundantly clear they do not care about us. Should we continue this one-sided relationship? We give our time for the university, and their response is to kick us out of our homes.
We cannot allow this to go unchallenged. Doing so simply affirms the idea that postgrads can be treated like dirt, since they’ll never do anything about it. Hell, most of them will be gone soon, why would they make any effort to preserve the community that they enjoyed at Durham?
Ustinov has given hundreds of postgraduates a home and a family in Durham every year, myself amongst them. We must not stand by while the university damages that. We can endure, if we must, but we should not go quietly. We should not leave Ustinov, or Durham as a whole, a worse place than we found it. It is our responsibility to fight this move.
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