University students nationwide are currently preparing to strike against the expectation to continue paying rent for their halls of residence, despite not living in their rooms during Level 3 and 4.
Over the lockdown period, university students previously residing in halls of residence were expected to supply rental payments for rooms they were required to leave. Victoria University of Wellington student accomodation residents have been required to pay $150 per week in rent until the end of Level 3, unless opting-out of their rental contracts and effectively losing their accomodation for the rest of the academic year. The University of Auckland has been reducing fees for those who have returned home from accommodation between $60 and $130 per week, while AUT has only given a utility reduction of $60.
Eve Mcdonald, residing at AUT’s city campus, said of the talks of strike “I don’t think I would be joining because the rate seems fair to me. I understand they can’t get the money to pay for it from someone else at this time, and we’re technically still renting these rooms”. However, many students are severely dissatisfied with their universities’ actions, and are beginning to retaliate with support from some politicians.
The Facebook group ‘VUW Halls of Residence Rent Strike’ has gained significant publicity following its recent emergence, accumulating over 1,400 supporters across New Zealand. The group is currently in the process of forming a signed pledge in retaliation to the fees imposed on them, with the number of supporters of this still unconfirmed. The students involved in the movement are working alongside Wellington Council member Tamantha Paul, who has previously been involved in citizens’ rental issues, as well as Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick who has stated “what we’re seeking to get is the fairest possible outcome that makes sense for students”.
Swarbrick is not the only politician to have supported the students, with Nikki Kaye of the National Party and the Young ACT Party speaking out against universities’ actions. Paul has also been working in association with New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA), hosting a zoom conference where students could raise their concerns.
One of the participants of the strike and a resident of Boulcott Hall,, Kieran Gordon-McKee, claims that “Victoria University is using this pandemic to take advantage of students”, as originally the students were informed they would not be charged for their rooms. Not only has the university backtracked on this, they are now seemingly profiting further off of accomodation. Weir House is currently being used as a collective space for all those who need residence on campus in which residents are still paying rent, whilst previous Weir residents whose rooms are being used are still being charged despite not being there.
Waikato, Massey and Lincoln universities have lifted the charges for residents who have left accommodation until they are able to return at Level 2, in line with comments from Education Minister Chris Hipkins who “wouldn’t expect” halls that are receiving the government wage subsidy to be charging students for empty rooms. Additionally, NZUSA have published a letter of complaint template, creating an easy and accessible way for students to inform University Vice-Chancellors across New Zealand of their disdain. Support for the strike is still growing significantly, and Gordon-McKee says “we are refusing to pay this outrageous charge until it is dropped by the University”.