Dougal McNeill and Katy Miller, TEU co-branch presidents at Victoria University of Wellington say the announcement students unable to access Victoria’s campus housing must pay a ‘holding fee’ on accommodation during Alert Level 3 unfairly targets the community’s most vulnerable.

The announcement made last week that Victoria University of Wellington is asking students in its campus housing to pay a weekly rent despite not being able to return to their rooms, and with no consultation with students is unfair, and targets the most vulnerable in our tertiary education community.

Students in campus housing were told that if they were intending to return to their accommodation they had to pay a ‘holding fee’ of $150 per week throughout Level 3 lockdown, despite not being able to return to their residence under current restrictions. The announcement came as a shock to students after having previously been told they would not be charged for any time they were not staying in residence.

The University initially waived student accommodation fees from 23 March to 28 April in the hope it would “relieve pressure during this difficult time”, but after having incurred costs keeping the halls running without student fees, it seems the university is now gearing up to pass this pressure on to its students, even as they are currently unable to access their accommodation.

The call was made suddenly, with no consultation, and it seems, with little consideration for students.

As the only group expected to borrow money during the pandemic, students are some of the most severely impacted by the restrictions, uncertainties and hardships posed by COVID-19. Many students have lost the part-time work they once used to subsidise their rent or hall fees. Many of those financially supported by whānau have parents who also find themselves out of work.

Students are acutely aware of the financial pressures created by the current crisis, but they are right in feeling aggrieved by the increased costs they must incur for a service they can’t access, confused by contradictory information they have received since the lockdown was announced, and angered by the lack of consultation and timely communication prior to last week’s announcement.

Our Government and tertiary education leaders have been adamant in the need for us to look out for one another at this time. The hardships and vulnerability faced by our student community require Victoria and our tertiary education institutions to apply the purported values and principles of the institution and of pubic tertiary education: of manaakitanga, equity, fairness and respect.

Students have been extraordinarily cooperative and patient as we have adjusted to Alert Level restrictions, and the many uncertainties we all have faced. Our tertiary education institutions must treat them with the with the same respect and understanding.

Unfortunately, the current crisis highlights the frequent failure of our institutions to observe the values and principles they profess. Vitoria’s approach also appears to be at odds with the purposes and principles of new pastoral care legislation.

Students are doing an incredible job raising awareness of their unfair treatment, their right to be properly consulted on issues that affect them, and to have key decisions communicated to them in a timely manner. They have organised, and voiced their concerns on a number of platforms. Victoria has now announced yesterday they are delaying the unfair cost to students for ten days, but the university looks likely to continue with their plan to charge students for accommodation they currently have no access to.

The TEU stands with students, and are confident in their ability to stand up for what is right. But they need our continued support, and for our tertiary education institutions to listen.