25 Apr 2020

Victoria University students pay fee for rooms they cannot access

5:10 pm on 25 April 2020

Victoria University is asking students to pay a placeholder fee for rooms in its halls of residence - even though some cannot return yet.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick says she will challenge universities over charging students fees for rooms they cannot use. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The university emailed students last night saying they must pay a $150 fee for unoccupied rooms in catered halls from 28 April, when the country moves to level 3 restrictions.

Students outside the region will be unable to return to their rooms until the country enters level 2.

The university said it had waived all student fees for accommodation for five weeks, but had to keep paying staff and residential assistants - most of whom were students.

"The university has incurred costs of more than $2 million in its accommodation services during this period," the university said in a written statement.

"These costs have not been offset by the government's wage subsidy scheme."

During the level 4 lockdown, tuition fees from all students were used to cover accommodation costs, but this could not continue, the university said.

The $150 fee for unoccupied rooms was "heavily discounted" from the standard rate.

Students could cancel their contracts if they did not want to keep their rooms and those who could not afford the fee could apply to the university's hardship fund, the statement said.

"The university has already paid out more than half a million dollars in student support this year and we expect the demands on our hardship fund to markedly increase over the remainder of the year."

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick said today she would take on tertiary bodies that are charging students for empty rooms.

Swarbrick went live on Facebook after midday saying the move to charge placeholder fees was a "massive abuse of authority" and she believed students were being treated as cash cows.

She told RNZ in the past 24 hours she had been flooded with emails from students from Victoria University and other universities. She planned to collate the information before taking it up with tertiary leaders.

Swarbrick, who is the Green Party tertiary spokesperson, said there were inconsistencies among different universities and halls and she wanted more transparency.

"It all feels very murky at the moment ... What's beginning to emerge is a quite dire picture of students across the country who are in precarious circumstances, and many of their parents are in challenging circumstances too.

"What we're seeking to get is the fairest possible outcome that makes sense for students."

On social media, she asked people to send her correspondence they had received from their universities.

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