A Bystander’s view

Billy Allan, Royal Military College of Canada

I had the good fortune to be welcomed into Hatfield (Durham) College’s Senior Common Room as I took a one-year sabbatical leave from my university in Canada. In addition to pursuing my research, I immersed myself in the undergraduate community at my adopted college as a member of the Boat Club, which extended inevitably to other opportunities: musical, theatrical, spiritual, artistic and social.  Father of three university-age children myself, I was curious, and informally interviewed Durham students I met over the year regarding their motivation for coming to Durham University, rather than another of the many excellent universities in the UK.  A number made curious references to collegiate systems that were either “real” or “fake”.  I determined that “fake” systems seem to be centrally managed universities, artificially divided, administratively and numerically, into colleges, but that those colleges were more business units than communities.  I gathered that they were not understood to have cultures or souls of their own.  “Real” college systems exist where colleges appear to be independent organisations (key word: appear) with their own character, traditions and identity.  Students eat, study, learn, play and work together there.  Indeed, they seem to grow up in company. I do not doubt that there is a continuum between the poles of Fake and Real, and that financial efficiency favours one pole.  However, if you are to take it from the “mouths of babes”, there is a real and well-demonstrated demand for “Real” Collegiate systems.  I hope your conference is able to parse out the reasoning, and insist that a price be placed on losing them, for if they are overcome, there is little that can be done to restore them.

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