DURHAM University has defended itself against claims an internal review is putting its world-renowned collegiate system at risk.

A wide-ranging review is assessing how the world top 100 University manages its accommodation, commercial services and facilities.

But student leaders have claimed the shake-up poses “a significant threat to the collegiate system”.

In a letter to vice-chancellor Professor Chris Higgins, the Junior Common Rooms (JCR) Presidents’ committee writes: “The proposals set out radical structural changes that we fear could cause a significant threat to the collegiate system; a system which, ultimately, encapsulates everything that is fantastic and unique about Durham University.”

The letter, leaked to the student newspaper Palatinate, continues: “The proposed changes... will lead to a ‘halls of residence’ model that would deprive this University of all that makes it so different and special.”

But Prof Graham Towl, the University’s pro-vice-chancellor, said: “The University is committed to enhancing the very special benefits which we know being part of Collegiate University can bring to our students.”

Durham is one of just a handful of collegiate universities in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge, with its colleges providing student accommodation, meals and pastoral care.

The controversial review makes proposals including a “strengthened senior management structure” and says phase one consultation will end in mid-February.

A briefing dated February 10 says “a key consideration throughout... has been to protect what is unique about Durham, specifically the distinctiveness of the Colleges’ individual scholarly communities as part of the overall ‘Durham experience’ and delivery of value for money services, whilst supporting excellence in Education and Research”.

But one JCR leader, who asked not to be named, said: “I believe that the proposed changes have the potential to weaken the college system and undermine the relationships between college office and students that make up the fabric of our communities.”

In a letter, he threatens “collective protest” if he does not receive a satisfactory response.

Prof Higgins, in a letter to JCR presidents, has said the changes are “aimed solely at enhanced service provision and value for money for students and the continued development of the distinctive Durham Colleges as educational communities which, as you say, are a critical component of this University.”