In response to the announcement that residential hall fees will increase, the Interhall Council (IHC) has published an open letter addressed to Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt announcing that the IHC will be “carry[ing] out a series of public actions this ANU Open Day.”
This follows the Do Better ANU Open Day protests from 2019, which aimed to bring attention to residential students’ concerns about the removal of Deputy Heads of Halls, lack of consultation and transparency on residential issues and changes to pastoral care structures.
The ANU recently announced a 6.7% increase in tariffs across all ANU Residential Halls, a move which will see residents paying up to $33 more per week commencing in 2021 for their rooms. The increase in tariffs is a result of ANU’s obligation to the legally binding Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) agreement, which the IHC has described as “deeply regrettable,” because it has “signed away residents’ rents for a 30-year lease.”
The letter further highlight’s the IHC’s concern with the ongoing lack of meaningful engagement with students around residential issues. The Council cited the limited response from the ANU following student protests in 2014, student consultations in 2016, and the IHC’s calls for greater transparency around tariff calculations in 2019. The IHC states that this “illustrates the University’s continual pattern of refusing to be transparent with students.”
The letter concludes by condemning the ANU and the Respectful Relationship Unit’s failure to respond to student feedback regarding SASH policy and procedures, which has limited the ability for the RRU to provide adequate support for students. The IHC called for increased pastoral staffing across all residential halls, and a commitment to cultural change from all members of the ANU community, including the ANU administration itself.
In response to the letter, an ANU spokesperson said “The University is committed to engaging with students about the cost of accommodation and has done so. ANU will consult students about future increases. ANU is also committed to ensuring that future tariff increases have as minimal financial impact on residents as possible. The price of our student accommodation rises by CPI every year, plus increased service costs (for example, utilities). Every five years, there’s an additional three per cent rise, as part of the contract with our accommodation providers.
For 2021, returning students will provide bursaries for rooms that are increasing above the average to share the cost of the additional tariff increase. In 2020 and 2021, ANU is also enhancing pastoral care services and academic enrichment. In 2021, the University is delivering on the commitment made in late 2019 that all Senior Residents with receive scholarships that cover 100 per cent of their room costs.”
The spokesperson said that financial assistance has been made available to residents who need it.
Addressing the concerns from last years ‘Do Better ANU’ strike, the spokesperson commented “ANU has increased pastoral support in residences, including Bruce, Wright and Fenner for 2020. Further increases for 2021 are under consideration, including in Wamburun Hall as well as increased debriefing support for senior residents and consistency of remuneration of community coordinators. These increases were based on extensive consultation with students and residents and the feedback we have received from them.”
In relation to claims from the IHC about the Respectful Relationships Unit the spokesperson commented that “there is no evidence or examples of this ever happening and the Interhall Council has not produced any specific examples or incidences to which the University and RRU can fairly respond. The University and the RRU consistently consult, engage and take on feedback from our entire community, including students and student leaders. To claim otherwise is simply incorrect. This feedback is balanced against best-practice, evidence, the safety of our community and the law.”
The spokesperson emphasised the work that the RRU is undertaking, including “the development of a comprehensive communications strategy that targets the most vulnerable in our community, working closely with relevant experts and advocates to ensure the messages reach people of all cultural backgrounds and living circumstances. It also includes the establishment of the Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Taskforce as a joint initiative of the DVC (SUE) and DVC (A), alongside representatives of our student associations.”