The latest national lockdown has prevented students from returning to university and has restricted access to facilities and resources that are an essential part of the university experience. One of the issues to arise from this concerns accommodation and rent payments.
Many students across the UK have been prevented from returning to their term-time accommodation but are still faced with potentially overwhelming bills. This has been stressful for students, who are already facing various other challenges caused by the pandemic. Concerns over rent payments have become a national issue, with students outraged across the country at having to continue to pay.
On 7 January, the University of Exeter and Falmouth University claimed that they would not be charging rent for students who were unable to return to campus. Falmouth University argued that they needed more support from the government to do so as they rely on rent to fund facilities and educational tools.
Falmouth University first addressed the issue in an email sent to all students on 7 January. The email, from the Vice-Chancellor’s office, stated: “Falmouth University has decided not to charge rent to students contracted to University Owned and Managed Accommodation (UOMA) but not currently able to occupy their room, for the period 4 January until 21 February (7 weeks). However, if it is possible to recall students to on-campus study before 21 February, rent will be charged from the date when on-campus studies recommence.”
As the Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union is legally unable to organise a rent strike, students created their own group in February, calling for a full refund on rent for students that are not able to return to campus.
The group, named Fal Rent Refund, is supported by ACORN, the local tenants’ union, and has been successful in working with the university to reach their aim.
On a Change.org petition, the group argues that “there are only 400 of 1450 rooms currently occupied on campus, and yet students are having to pay full price for facilities that less than a third of students are actually using” and “Falmouth University claims it is unable to continue subsidising students rent fees due to lack of funds, without consideration for the students whose personal funds have been dwindling due to Coronavirus”.
The group wishes for Falmouth to amend their rent policy to resemble Exeter’s promise to waive rent payments until 19 June for students not using their university accommodation.