Students left in the lurch: We’re not happy!

“The government’s rules are still unclear and they have left many students confused about whether they will actually be returning to university this year at all. We’ve had no recognition and no help.” – Isabel, a University of Leeds student.

Students seem to have been forgotten about in the latest set of rules introduced by the government, and we’re not happy. We have already had to deal with limited library access, a lack of pastoral support and, in many cases, no face-to-face teaching whilst navigating multiple deadlines. We have already had to deal with security-monitored halls of residences and the threat of a £10,000 fine for trying to make friends. Now, we’re still unclear on where we stand. Once again, we seem to have been dealt a bad hand in this new lockdown. 

Despite ongoing rent payments for university accommodation, we have been told to postpone their returns to mid-February, at the earliest. However, with COVID-19 cases rising and the threat of a lockdown extension looming, it feels likely that it could be pushed to March or later.

Many students feel that since they are paying the rent, they should be able to go back to their accommodation. And many are going to do just that.

“Unless they give us a rent refund, I’m going back.”

A student from the University of Leeds

On the 5th of January, some students received an email confirming that there will be a rent reduction. This came only after the threat of a rent strike. The University of Leeds announced that there would be “an appropriate rent refund” for those living in university-owned accommodation. How much this “appropriate amount” will be is still yet to be confirmed.

Furthermore, for many students, this still isn’t enough. In light of the change in learning conditions this year, they feel robbed that they are still paying the same fee as students in previous years. 

“They need to refund not only the rent but the course as well.”

A student from the University of Leeds

Whilst the question of fees remains important to us, there is also a pressing concern about student wellbeing, particularly for those left stranded in accommodation.

“It’s definitely quieter,” says Jack, a student from Leeds Arts University. “It’s only me and one other flatmate and we don’t really get on at all. Its quite isolating to be honest. The reception staff haven’t even come back yet so people have had parcels stolen and the security team has been dealing with it, which isn’t their job. There should be a reduction. We don’t even need to be here, yet they told us to move to halls anyway. Now we’re just locked inside our flats.”

The feelings of uncertainty and stress among us students is widespread, but its particularly challenging for those with mental health issues. “I think it’s kind of strange and stressful, and for someone like me who can get pretty anxious, it’s hard not really having a date for when I should go back and what I need to do before that!” says Shola, a University of Leeds student. “I kind of feel like I’m neither here nor there, which doesn’t really help with the work because I just feel like bunning it off and not doing anything.”

I also conducted an interview with a student who told me that staying at ‘home’ is not a viable option as she no longer has her own bedroom and so has been sleeping on the sofa. “As I live in a house where I don’t have my own room or space to learn, I’ve got to make the choice between my work suffering at home or my mental health suffering staying in accommodation by myself. Students have been forgotten about and we deserve something”, she says.

Whilst universities like Leeds Beckett are making efforts to protect students’ grades, and others are introducing rent reductions and food parcels, the effect of the lack of clarity from the government is still glaring.

“I think the government has really missed the mark,” Isabel, a Leeds University student says. “Not only are they always a little too late (waiting until cases aren’t at an all-time high to put us into lockdown), their priorities seem to be wrong also. Currently, flights are still open to the UK from all around the world, e.g., you could fly from Dubai to Heathrow this morning, but schools are closed and uni students haven’t really been considered at all. Before the first term started, we were urged to apply for student accommodation and pay the rent because it would be necessary with the on-campus lessons still happening (which ended up not being true). The rules seem to still be unclear, and it’s left of a lot of students confused as to whether they will actually be returning to university this year at all. We’ve had no recognition and no help.”

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