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SU criticises colleges’ reduction of vacation residence

Some colleges are reducing the availability of residence for students over the Michaelmas vacation. Oxford SU is lobbying to ensure international students are guaranteed accommodation for those who wish to remain, and has criticised the impact on care leavers, estranged students, and independent students.

Oxford SU passed a motion in 3rd week resolving to ask the University to guarantee all international student residence in Oxford over the vacation. The SU also resolves to push for vacation residence to be offered at 15% of usual vacation rent.

College policies do not currently fulfil Oxford SU’s requests. St John’s College has said that their vacation residence and grant scheme “will not operate as usual” during this vacation. All students have to leave, except international students whose home borders are closed and students with extended terms for their subjects.  

St John’s told students that this was to ensure staff get a break from a difficult term, and students get a break to spend some time in a “different environment” before next year.

Queen’s College emailed students saying they “strongly urge” and “expect” all UK-domiciled students to return, noting that for students with welfare concerns, the welfare services would be closed for a period over the vacation.  

They also told international students that the requirement to quarantine in their home country and in the UK is “unlikely” to be a “compelling reason” to be granted vacation residence. Queen’s said that, if borders for students’ home countries are closed, students should consider asking friends to stay at their homes. Queen’s reminded students that “there is no automatic right to stay in College”.

Oxford SU Class Act Campaign told Cherwell: “This is an issue not only for international students, but also for care leavers, estranged students, and independent students. Colleges consistently fail to provide these students with security, instead leaving individuals to negotiate with them for the right to have somewhere to stay. This is a difficult situation for everyone, but many students call Oxford their home, and must not be forgotten in this pandemic.”

One anonymous student told Cherwell: “The vacation residence policy email I received from my college was a disappointing read that placed unnecessary anxiety upon estranged students. For some of us, home life is not safe: it does not matter if this has always been the case, or if this is recent. Trinity Term lockdown was hard enough to suffer because students from other colleges were able to return – hopefully we can stay this time.

“I, like many other students, am incredibly grateful for my time at Oxford because of the freedom it gives me. It is also one of the reasons students take advantage of the vacation residence system: escape. To put it plainly, studying in college is better than working at home. We already try so hard to learn to live independently, study efficiently and strike that balance needed to be happy that if we are forced back into our older unhealthy environments no good will come of it.”

Oxford SU will further ask the University to ensure students who are required to quarantine upon return to Oxford get free accommodation, and receive food at the average price of their college’s home food.

Students who were required to quarantine upon arrival at the beginning of Michaelmas faced very varied college policies. Oxford SU’s motion stated that students were “in some cases charged extortionate rates for their accommodation”. 
Cherwell reported at the beginning of the term that Oriel College charged self-isolating international students over £700, including a nearly £30 per day food bill. Some colleges, including Hertford, Magdalen, Queen’s, and Worcester College, made accommodation free.

Image credit: Simononly/ Wikimedia Commons

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