Staggered return: UoA to refund up to 2 weeks’ rent
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Offer made as student rent strikes planned at Dundee and Edinburgh
By: Jake Roslin
Protests at the University of Manchester - Courtesy of Mancunion
Residents in University of Aberdeen (UoA) halls who have been instructed to return later than scheduled next semester, will be eligible for a one or two-week rent refund, the University has announced.
However, with students in Year 1 generally required to be in Aberdeen by 1 February, most will receive only a single week’s rebate.
The concession comes as spring rent strikes are planned by students at around 20 UK institutions, according to The Guardian, in response to a lack of financial concessions to the pandemic by their universities.
Student unions and tenant associations at the campuses, which include Dundee and Edinburgh, hope to emulate the success of students at the University of Manchester (UoM), where campus chiefs cut student rent bills for the autumn semester by 30% following several incidents of student protest and unrest.
UoM acknowledged ‘the limited availability of some facilities due to national Covid-19 restrictions has had an impact on the student experience,’ and issued the refunds, costing the institution approximately £4 million.
In an 11 December email, Aberdeen University announced Hillhead students will be refunded their rent for 25 January to 7 February 2021 if they do not occupy their rooms due to the ‘staggered return’ nationwide demanded by the Scottish Parliament.
A University spokesperson confirmed, despite the wording of their announcement, this applies to all UoA-run halls, not only Hillhead. However, refunds will only be for full weeks. Given information suggests most, if not all, Year 1 students are asked to return by Monday 1 February, this suggests only one week’s rebate will generally be made.
Protests at Manchester University - Bella Jewell/Mancunion
The large number of students living in privately-owned halls will not benefit from the refund, nor will the University compensate for extra travel costs incurred due to the last-minute changes in the teaching timetable. The spokesperson told us: ‘We are only responsible for our own accommodation and are rebating eligible students for full weeks where the accommodation is not being used. While we sympathise with the other costs students face, these are not directly a result of University actions. Students in hardship can, and always have, been able to access funds if they are in genuine need.’
Meanwhile, Aberdeen Student Tenant’s Union (ASTU), formed last semester as a voice for student renters at UoA and RGU, has been in talks with NUS Scotland President Matt Crilly and other Scottish student tenants’ associations, on the issue of charges for student accommodation underused due to the pandemic.
ASTU’s spokesperson told The Gaudie that Crilly ‘brought a lot of great ideas to the table... NUS has done a lot of beneficial work for students and has a lot of influence. We support the NUS Scotland calls for a comprehensive support package for those impacted by the government advice in January. Currently, we are not planning a rent strike, however, if the NUS’ calls are not met we will have to consult our members on how we respond.’
Rents for both university and commercial halls in Aberdeen remain some of the highest in the UK, despite rents for private sector student houses falling in recent years due to a property glut caused by the decline in the oil industry. Official statistics show the cost of a room in a shared house in Aberdeen has fallen from an average of around £100pw in 2015 to £80pw in 2020.
Meanwhile, UoA’s self-catering rooms range from £90 to £148 per week and private hall fees are broadly similar. In a situation replicated across the UK, Aberdeen University only announced that many students had the option to study wholly online this year after annual accommodation contracts had been signed. Further, many students are resentful at paying for unused rooms over the extended Christmas vacation.
‘The marketisation of education has been shown clearly through this crisis,’ ASTU commented. ‘Many students [were] forced back into student accommodation, without clarity, for profit. Students have faced unprecedented challenges this year and the fact that many in Government are looking to blame us is a disgrace.’
‘We are very keen to work with RGU:Union and AUSA as they have certainly made a positive difference to students in Aberdeen,’ the tenants’ union continued. ‘But there are limitations to what they might advocate in terms of action compared to student tenants’ unions. For example, rent strikes.’
ASTU believe tenant unions have an important role to play, autonomous of both student unions and political parties: ‘There is a lot of anxiety among students nationally, and my advice to anyone who is in that position is to join.’