While private landlords have sat back and watched students’ money roll into their accounts, the University has done the right thing by stepping up and offering rent credits (effectively deductions) to students who follow the guidance and don’t use their room. But, we shouldn’t pretend the system is perfect.
There are plenty of students who have every right, within the current rules, to live on campus.
Charlie Jeffery’s December email regarding the move to online teaching was right to emphasise “students who feel their physical and mental wellbeing will be better served by returning to York” and “students who do not have adequate study facilities at home” as two examples, and of course for some international students, campus may be their UK home.
Students who use their rooms, for whatever reason, are not eligible for any rent credit or support. Whilst this seems to make sense at first glance, it has the effect of pushing students who need more support than others into making tough choices.
If you are without access to adequate study facilities at home, you now have a choice between staying where you are and finding it difficult to participate fully in your degree, or going onto campus and costing yourself a significant amount of money. The same is true of people who feel that their physical or mental wellbeing would be better in York.
Pushing students into these choices is particularly concerning when almost 1 in 10 students have resorted to using food banks, and a new lockdown has, for so many of us, increased the strain on our mental health.
And what about international students, or others who have remained in their on-campus accommodation throughout the year? Part of the reason for paying for an on-campus room is being at the heart of university life.
In fact, here is some University advertising, describing on-campus accommodation as meaning you have “university life on your doorstep”. Surely people that have paid, at least in part, for an experience should be compensated when that experience is no longer on offer.
Whenever I speak to friends living on-campus, they tell me it was so they could roll out of bed and be right in the centre of campus life. That is the trade off that people accept for housing that can be more expensive than the private sector. People understandably feel short-changed when the benefits of on-campus housing are lost, but the cost remains the same.
Again, the University deserves SOME praise for stepping in with this scheme and supporting many students, something we have not seen across the country, and certainly not from parasitic private landlords.
That doesn’t mean we should stop talking about the need to support students that remain, and try to eliminate the damaging trade-offs between wellbeing, ability to learn, and money.