The University has recently announced its entry into a deal to secure borrowing of £225m through a bond placement, effectively a long-term loan with a set interest rate. On the one hand, this is a significant burden of debt the University is demanding that students of the University fund through their fees for years to come, with the shortest of these bonds lasting 30 years and interest having to be paid all throughout that time. On the other, this funding can allow the University to make improvements to elements of the estate that it has neglected for some time; and, unlike the deal struck over the colleges being built at Mount Oswald where the costs but also the vast part of accommodation fee revenue are in private hands, it is being transparent about its borrowing and its costs.
The University can only pay this debt off through fee income, both tuition and accommodation fees, so students must guide and shape the facilities being built, and the University must set out its plans for spending these funds well in advance of any decisions being taken to enable this to be done meaningfully. We expect the University to give enhanced priority to the renovation or replacement of existing facilities for students rather than forcing them to endure shoddy rooms and lecture theatres as is currently too often the case. By the University’s own admission, barely half of its estate is currently of good quality (52.2% in 2016 according to its 2017 Financial Statements). This falls to 38% when considering only the residential estate. Even putting aside the fact that the cost of University accommodation is wildly out-of-touch with the local area and University sector more generally, we tell the University unambiguously: This is unacceptable.
Unfortunately, the University’s main priority with this money seems to be the construction of new facilities to try and entice additional students to Durham and take their tuition and accommodation fees, rather than to bring its existing facilities up to an adequate standard. This runs the risk of jeopardising what it touts as the world-class University experience it offers – Durham does not need further quantity; it needs further quality. Whilst it is on the whole positive that the University has been able to secure funds for investment, it is only worthwhile if they are spent to the benefit of students with due regard for the city in which it is based rather than the pursuit of ever-increasing revenues.