Increase in student numbers likely, University says

The following is an article provided by Palatinate.

In conversation with Palatinate, the University has said that it is looking at increasing student numbers in coming years.

This comes after this summer’s decision by the government to lift the cap on the number of students universities can accept.

Nationwide there was a record 409,000 people taking up University places this summer, an increase of 3% on last year.

Professor Tom Ward, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Education), spoke to Palatinate about the University’s plans for expansion.

“In common with many UK universities operating in a competitive global higher education market, Durham is considering a long term growth agenda and has modelled options for an increase in student numbers.”

He was clear that any increase would be matched with “the appropriate investment in staffing and infrastructure” and that students would “continue to receive a first-class experience both academically and within [their] colleges.”

It is not yet known the exact increase in student numbers at Durham this year, but the University has confirmed that “there has been a small increase in the University intake.”

In his statement, Professor Ward assured Palatinate that the University’s “entry standards have remained very high and undergraduates will benefit from the usual excellent student experience.”

He also reaffirmed that the growth agenda was a “work in progress” and that “no decisions have been made.”

He stressed that the plans would “need to be fully considered through our governance system, including but not limited to Senate and council, on which there is student representation.”

Reaction to the lifting of the cap has been mixed amongst experts and the student body.

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of The Russell Group, expressed concern “that the government has chosen to put additional taxpayer’s money into growing student numbers so substantially.”

She outlined The Russell Group’s view that “quality higher education should be prioritised over quantity, especially in times of limited funding.”

Palatinate spoke to the executives of DULC (Durham University Labour Club), DUCA (Durham University Conservative Association) and Durham Young Greens about the decision to lift the cap and the implications it would have for Durham students.

Rhys Tanner, President of DUCA, called the cap “arbitrary” and argued that the lifting of it would make “university education more accessible.”

“This is social mobility in action,” he contended.

“I really struggle to see opposition to this.

“How can you support restricting access to higher education – a vessel of self-development and a key tenet of global success?”

Jade Frances Azim, Co-Chair of DULC, was in partial disagreement.

“Expanded access is always a good thing.

“But this comes hand in hand with an uncapping of fees, so the access argument is beginning to disintegrate.”

However, she stressed that she hoped the lifting of the cap might encourage a broader range of students to apply to study at Durham.

“We need more working class applicants to open up the Durham experience.

“If this lifting of the cap helps with that…then it can only prove positive.”

Jamie Penston Raja, President of Durham Young Greens, criticised the lifting of the cap, arguing that it would not make university education more accessible.

“Rather than focussing on broadening access to education, this further delegitimizes other forms of further and higher education that we need.

“When we now have 58.8% of graduates now in non-graduate jobs, we are over-saturating the market with graduates.

“With private school students still over-represented at university level, the answer is not to have more students overall but to have a more representative student body.”

They were also in disagreement about the impact the policy would have on the quality of student experience at Durham.

Jamie argued that the policy was “a continuation of the privatisation of higher education” and that it could increase the pressures on student accommodation.

“With accommodation already stretched, the logistics of housing these students, without increasing the divide between students¬† and locals who can no longer afford to live here, also poses a problem.”

Jade called for the University to implement policies to help tackle the increasing pressures on student accommodation.

“We don’t want to keep buying properties.

“The University needs to ensure a greater autonomy over private tenancies, including rent caps.”

Rhys dismissed concerns that the lifting of the cap could impact on the quality of student experience at Durham.

“This will not damage the function of universities as research institutions.

“We need a highly educated workforce to fuel growth and prosperity – this process will flourish as the government lifts this arbitrary cap on aspiration.”

Photograph: Durham University