Students have called on the university to cancel rents for students who will not be able to return to their accommodation next semester.
Members of the Stirling Student Tenants’ Union (SSTU), a group representing students in housing issues, have started a petition which argues that students should not have to pay rent if they cannot access their accommodation.
The move comes after the university announced that there would be a staggered return to campus over six weeks at the start of next semester and that students would have to book a time slot to return to their accommodation, meaning some students would not be in halls for weeks.
The SSTU argues that students are facing financial difficulty and struggling to find part time work due to the pandemic, and that collecting rents from students while they cannot stay in their flats will damage their mental health, which the SSTU describes as at a “breaking point.”
A spokesperson for the SSTU said that the university cannot ignore the pleas of students and accused university management of being “cruel” and “cash-grabbing.”
“We decided to create this petition to show the university how crucially important it is that rent refunds are introduced.
“This is not something management can ignore, and we will continue to raise this until we hear a definitive answer offering rent refunds.
“To ignore the pleas of students and continue to take rent payments from them in a period where income is next to none is a cruel cash grabbing tactic by our university management.”
The university responded, stating that student safety is their main priority for the start of next semester and that they are following
A university spokesperson said: “The safety of our students and staff is our top priority and, in line with the guidance issued by the Scottish Government, the University has put in place a robust process to ensure the safe, phased return to campus for students living in University accommodation.
“The University has been in contact with our students with advice, guidance and information about COVID-19 safety measures, including the safe return to University accommodation for the new semester. We have also provided information regarding the additional support measures in place for our students remaining in University-managed accommodation over the holidays.
The spokesperson added that any student facing financial difficulty can apply to the hardship fund.
The Student Union’s housing officer and former General Secretary of the SSTU Cian Ireland, a vocal critic of accommodation services, added criticism about the lack of communication from the university to the SSTU.
Ireland said “The lack of communication and clarity on rent in the next semester reinforces years of similar experiences for Stirling tenants. It doesn’t matter whether its university or government that deal with this but one of them need to front up and ensure student tenants don’t pay a penny of rent for housing they can’t access.”
The Tenants’ Union petition was launched on December 21, five days after the original announcement from the university about the staggered return.
The University of Glasgow and Aberdeen university have refunded rent to students, prompting calls from the SSTU that Stirling should follow and do the same.
Edinburgh and Dundee universities are facing similar calls from their student groups on rents for students returning next semester.
Student housing groups have been bolstered by events at the University of Manchester earlier this year, where student protests led to a 30% reduction in rent.
The SSTU insists that their campaign will continue until they get an answer from the university on the issue of rent refunds.