The government guidance for students to travel home prior to the winter break and return later in the 2021 Spring Semester raised questions over Student Accommodation rent during this period. We raised these questions in a letter to Vice-Chancellor David Richardson and subsequently met with him to discuss the matter further.
Following the government guidance for students to travel home early before the winter break, and for many to return late for semester two, we are writing to request a four-week rent refund over this period. This echoes similar requests by Students’ Unions across the country which have been acted upon by Universities.
As we have discussed, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented many new and difficult challenges for students this academic year. These include adapting to blended learning, confinement to household bubbles with unfamiliar people, and limited extracurricular opportunities. These and other factors have contributed to a diminished student experience alongside significant mental health and financial pressures, beyond those we would normally see.
Many students living in UEA Accommodation feel they are being overcharged given the circumstances this academic year. UEA encouraged students to live on campus despite minimal face-to-face teaching, leading to difficulties accessing virtual teaching due to WiFi issues and Covid security issues within accommodation. Students feel they are being exploited, and continue to be concerned about the single occupancy twin Ziggurat room pricing and the poor communication around this issue.
Meanwhile, instructions from the government for students to return home, and the accompanying guidance for Universities to cease all extra-curricular activity, has added to these concerns. Students who must remain on campus with limited access to activities outside of their student rooms face increased mental health pressures, whilst those travelling home for an extended period are still being charged for their extra weeks away.
Other Universities around the country, including Sheffield, Kings College London, and Manchester, have offered rent refunds to students to mitigate the impacts of the government’s instructions over the winter break. In doing so, these institutions have recognised and responded to the financial strain faced by students and their families at present, and how this has been detrimental to students and their learning. As you are aware, these impacts are being experienced disproportionately by students from Widening Participation backgrounds. Your students need and deserve UEA’s support through these new financial pressures, and to see your care for them as the leader of this institution.
As a Union we do recognise that UEA is to some extent reliant on accommodation income, and that this contributed to the determination to provide face-to-face teaching and encourage students to live on campus. However, the increased financial pressures this year have had a detrimental impact on student mental health. Again, it is important that you respond to these ongoing concerns to demonstrate your recognition of the student experience of the pandemic.
We are reaching out to you as uea(su)’s Sabbatical Officer Team on behalf of our students to request a four-week rent refund for UEA accommodation residents to compensate for the early departure and late return dates put in place by the government. We commit to supporting you and the UUK in lobbying the government to support universities to meet these costs.
Em Anderson – Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer
Ayane Hida – Postgraduate Education Officer
Lizzie Payne – Activities and Opportunities Officer
Callum Perry – Undergraduate Education Officer
Hamish Williams – Campaigns and Democracy Officer