This time last year, I was coming to the end of my first ever semester at university. I was living in halls and had made friends with my flat, my neighbours, and course mates. I was going home for a few weeks of Christmas nights out with my school friends, New Year in London and then returning to Liverpool ready for another semester of fun.
It’s a different story, however, for this year’s freshers. They came to university in unprecedented circumstances, with the promise of the best three years of their lives. Those starting at the University of Liverpool were encouraged to move away from home and into Halls, for a ‘hybrid model’ of learning; one which was a mixture of face-to-face and online teaching. Unlike second and third years who were motivated to move back by the prospect of seeing our friends, most freshers had never met any of the people they would soon essentially be trapped in a flat with, and would not have as much opportunity to meet people outside of that.
Almost as soon as they had moved in, and a week before we were due to begin the semester of hybrid learning, Janet Beer, our Vice Chancellor sent out a university-wide email explaining the cancellation of all face-to-face teaching, except for practical-based teaching. Obviously, this was done with good intentions, given that Liverpool was in the pre-lockdown two Tier 3, and COVID rates were rapidly increasing. But for the students in Halls, it must’ve felt like they had been manipulated into moving to Liverpool, and were discouraged from visiting home, purely so the university would not lose their rent money.
Then, the Government introduced the travel window for students wishing to travel home for Christmas, between the 3rd and 9th December. This meant that students were being told not to live in accommodation they were paying for, two weeks before UoL’s term officially ended. Similarly, the university has introduced a phased return in the New Year, meaning that some students are actively encouraged not to move back in until 8th February, over a month after the term starts back on the 4th January. Therefore, students will be paying for accommodation that they are discouraged from living in! This is where Liverpool Guild of Students stepped in.
The Liverpool Guild of Students University of Liverpool’s student union; it’s where you can go for a burrito, a pint, and your Uni of Merch. They also operate various forms of activism, organising campaigns against injustices faced by people, whether students at the university or not. So obviously when students were being scammed into paying for accommodation they were being told not to live in for two months, the Guild Student Officers intervened. Then Refund the Rent was born.
Guild President, Adnan, wrote about how he and the other Student Officers have been lobbying ‘the University to share the financial burden students living in halls are currently facing’, in his blog. In the campaign, they have set out several demands:
- Refund 35% of the rent paid from September to December 2020
- Allow students to be released from University accommodation rent contracts if they wish so
- Refund 100% of the rent for the weeks during the travel window before Christmas
- Remove 100% of the rent for the weeks during the staggered return to campus dates between January and February 2021
The final two demands are subjective to whether students are living in their accommodation during these time periods.
So far, the University has met three of the demands. Students will be allowed to be released from their contracts, should they wish to be, and students will be offered a rent rebate, if they aren’t living in their University accommodation between 3-18 December and 4-25 January. While this can definitely be seen as a win for both the Student Officers and the student body, the Guild are still pushing for the 35% refund. You can sign this petition to help the Student officers achieve their goals, and ultimately provide justice for this year’s freshers.
Despite all this, the University of Liverpool’s handling of students in halls hasn’t been all bad, throughout the semester they have provided activity packs and competitions, such as a pizza party with DIY pizza kits and care packages for those having to self-isolate. The Guild are also throwing lots of online events for students who are staying in Liverpool over the festive period, and provided care packages as part of their ‘Guild Gifts’.
If you’re staying in Liverpool over Christmas, whether you’re in halls, private accommodation, or a student house; follow Liverpool Guild of Students on Instagram for updates on any events they plan, and for support through what will likely be a very peculiar Christmas!