University College’s JCR passed a motion protesting ‘unfair’ rent charges faced by students forced to remain in college accommodation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, at their Week 2 JCR meeting. The complaints come after some students were left having to pay more than four times as much as others for vacation residence. The motion mandates the JCR President to seek a constructive resolution to the issue with the college.
The motion notes that many students could not reasonably have predicted their need to remain in Oxford. The majority of undergraduates at University are on’ short contracts’, providing accommodation between 0th and 9thweek.
There are also ‘long contracts’, available for students who anticipate their need to remain in Oxford in the vacation, with this providing accommodation at a lower per-day rate outside of term. Those on short contracts who unexpectedly require accommodation outside of term have to pay a daily rate of £21.53 for the use of their rooms outside of term time.
Students on the pre-arranged ‘long contracts’ have been charged less than £200 for their vacation residence thus far, whilst those on ‘short-contracts’, have been asked to pay up to £821. University College’s JCR accommodation officer Ali Al-Zubaidi, has criticised this disparity: “It is unfair on people who couldn’t possibly have predicted this would happen”.
Students were also charged for the services normally provided by scouts, despite the suspension of these services due to social distancing guidelines. Ali also said that charging full rent, which includes the cost of scout services, places an unreasonable burden on students.
The College has stated, in its communications with students, that they will not “hold anyone to the terms of their contract for accommodation but are charging people for the accommodation that they use”. The College has also referred students who find themselves in need of help, to a central university hardship fund.
The hardship fund allows students in need to apply for help with accommodation and other Covid-19 related costs. The fund is in the form of a grant, of up to £1000. Despite this, the proposers of the motion argue that the grants are insufficient for students who may already find themselves in hardship. In response to this, a college source told The Oxford Student that there had been no applications to its hardship fund thus far.
There are just 25 undergraduate students still in University College accommodation, all of whom are now at University’s Staverton Road annexe, many of them having been moved from the college’s main site. A large proportion of those still in college accommodation are international, many of whom are unable to return to their homes due to international travel restrictions and high flight prices.
Despite the reassurances provided by the college, there are fears that the higher charges could encourage students to leave Oxford, even if it is not safe to do so. Ali told The Oxford Student that he has witnessed a student flying to a pandemic hotspot, against official government travel advice. The accommodation officer also raised concerns that the “perverse incentives” created by the high costs could jeopardise the health and wellbeing of more students. The motion passed with 92% in favour, no votes were cast against it.
The University College domestic bursary has been approached for comment.
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