News Article

Our Letter to the Vice Chancellor

This letter outlines our arguements with regards the accomodation on and off campus.

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Dear Julia,
On Wednesday the 27th of January - the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, gave an update on the coronavirus pandemic and the government approach, which stated very clearly that schools would not be opening for the children of non-essential workers until at least the 8th March.  He also identified that the current lockdown conditions would not be lifted until at least that same date, and that the lifting of restrictions would be gradual.  In the best-case scenario, we will not see a return to anything less than Tier 3 until the end of the Easter break in April.  
In our last meeting, we said that we would review the situation on campus when information changed.  We think we have a very clear indication that in the best projection students will, have the option to, return to campus for three weeks before term two ends and that return will be subject to very strict social distancing which will prevent or limit access to the following: physical course study groups, services on campus, hospitality or catering services, competitive sport and standard leisure and sporting facilities.  
We also know that there will not be a return to face to face teaching for most students and exams in this academic year will be predominantly online.  
To be clear – for the majority of undergraduate students - there is just no need to be on campus for the rest of the academic year and we believe now is the time to make the decision to release those students, who wish to leave, from their accommodation contracts.  
On campus students who contact us are stressed and anxious over falling into poverty and many of their families are not able to assist this year; feeling trapped in campus accommodation, unable to benefit from any campus experience, unable to interact socially with others. Isolated, alone and undervalued.  
The current rent freeze agreed two weeks ago is appreciated but does not help those that returned or never left before Christmas, that now see no value being on campus and feel extorted.    
One of the key arguments being used today for not enabling students to leave license agreements is that it breaks lockdown restrictions. Our understanding is that the Government’s guidance (Link) asks students to remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university or college.”
The guidance also states that If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time”. Our argument is that paying for accommodation that is unnecessary for students makes it impossible for them to remain where they are, and a permanent move back home will be just that - a permanent move, not back and forward. The Government guidance also makes it clear that people can move home during the lockdown period and provides guidance on how to do that safely.  We appreciate that a large exodus of students would need to be effectively managed, but whilst that is challenging - it should not be a prohibitive factor.
There is also a financial barrier for students who are not in the UK at this moment. International Students from 30 countries (Link) will now have to pay in the region of £1,500 to stay in a 10 day hotel quarantine in order to enter in the UK – adding more pressure to their academic and financial hardship during this period. We want to see these students, like all students, focussing on their academic priorities at this time.  
We appreciate that this decision to release students from their agreements will significantly increase the University’s financial liability, but we believe that in these unique times it is the right and moral course of action. We would also not be considering this as being a set precedent to leave accommodation under any circumstances in the future.    
Some students will of course choose to remain on campus because it is the right thing for them, because they don’t have alternative accommodation or would prefer to stay in Uxbridge and use the limited facilities on campus to study. We want to make sure students have a choice which many feel they do not have and are forced to pay for unnecessary accommodation which they perceived was mis-sold alongside their academic and student experience during recruitment.  
The current logistical arrangements for payment of term 2 accommodation fees is quite frankly incomprehensible and unfair.  Students are being encouraged to settle their term 2 payment in full on the 10th February despite not knowing or having any confirmation of what discounting a rent freeze will have on their term 3 invoice.  The rent freeze arrangement was intended to allow breathing space where debt was not accumulating.  Asking students to settle costs up front before the rent freeze period ends, in the hope that they will receive an appropriate discount in April, is amoral and not in keeping with our initial agreement.  
This is the number one issue students are contacting us about and as such has made it our number one priority for the rest of the year – to ensure students are financially supported until we see an end to this pandemic.  
We ask that you and your senior teams reconsider the current university position to accommodation on campus and undertake the following action:  
  • Ensure that students not in accommodation and without any personal belongings on campus to be immediately released from their license agreements, if they choose to do so, and be sent a final settlement invoice.  
  • Ensure that students not able to use their accommodation but have belongings on campus, to have the rent freeze extended to the 8th March where upon they can exit their license agreements if they wish, receive an updated final settlement invoice and collect their belongings within a safe university coordinated timetable.  
  • Ensure that students currently on campus - but who wish to leave, to be released from their contracts within seven days of informing the university of their intention, a final settlement invoice to be issued and a coordinated safe exit from campus arranged prior to the 8th March window where others could be returning to clear their property.  
  • Ensure appropriate arrangements are in place for safe storage of personal belongings for those that cannot return to the UK yet, as was the case at the end of the 2020 academic year. 
  • Ensure the removal of the 10th of February accommodation payment deadline for term 2 and that all final settlement invoices be issued in line with the final payment date for term 3 which is the 28th of April.  
  • Ensure the university considers exceptional hardship claims from students who are unable to pay.  
  • Ensure these terms apply to any student in On Campus Halls Accommodation and those students in Off-Campus Nominated Housing through Brunel Student Lettings.  
  • Introduce an enhanced financial hardship fund created specifically for students in off-campus Housing either through Brunel Student Lettings or a third-party letting agent/landlord/ property owner.  
  • And finally, ensure that these terms apply to any student despite their current level of accommodation arrears with the University.  
We believe that this action would free many students from the burden of unnecessary cost and give focus to students to excel academically. That relief will enable students to concentrate on assignment and dissertation submissions and prepare for their online exams – giving them a better chance of a successful outcome – A conclusion that we will all want to see this year.  
We will also be sharing this letter on Friday evening to ensure full transparency with our membership.  
Yours Sincerely,  
Anvitha Paruchuri, Union President
Sam Johnson, Vice President CHMLS
Eshna Sikri, Vice President CEDPS
Pritesh Shah, Vice President CBASS
Connie Fernandes, Vice President Student Activities