Fenner Fights for its Home

There’s a strong sense of emotion surging through Fenner Hall. A mixture of confusion, anger, passion and outrage after residents heard of the university’s plans to move Fenner into the new student accommodation block, SA-5, in 2018.

Earlier Thursday morning,over 150 residents walked from Northbourne Avenue to B&G to hear the Vice-Chancellor, Brian Schmidt, discuss his new plans to relocate Fenner Hall . This is paired with planned changes to Bruce Hall, whose residents will be relocated into SA-5 at the start of 2017 as construction begins to create two residences in the space, one of which will remain as “Bruce”.
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A number of reasons have been provided for these radical residential reforms, the two biggest being the maintenance contracts for the Halls, and Fenner’s lease. Contrary to popular belief, Fenner is not owned by the ANU but rather on lease from the Federal Government. The terms of the lease are not public knowledge, but the uncertainty behind whether the Government will update the lease, given this is an election year (there are plans to redevelop Northbourne Avenue making Fenner prime real estate) is one of the driving factors to move Fenner onto campus. Additionally, the rising maintenance for the Halls means the university is unable to meet the financial demands of maintaining the residences. The maintenance contracts of all the ANU Halls will be sold to private investors, and the revenue raised will pay for the cost of the new residence hall and the redevelopment of Bruce Hall.

Fenner residents have met the university’s proposed reforms with significant outrage, outlining issues of affordability, culture and the residential outcomes for both international and postgraduate students.

Rent at Fenner is currently $212 a week, equalling B&G for the most affordable residence Hall at the ANU. In comparison, the Vice-Chancellor quoted that prices at SA-5 would be around $260-270 a week, which is a $50 increase. Such an increase removes the affordability of living at Fenner, with numerous residents stating had the price initially been $260 per week, they would not have been able to afford living there. At the end of last year, residents met the increase in the security payment to $1000 from $350 with significant concern. Such an increase in rent will be an even greater barrier to prospective students enrolling at the ANU.

A large proportion of Fenner residents support themselves financially through part time work, often working 20-30 hours a week in order to pay rent and living costs. This 25% increase in rent severely disadvantages residents who are struggling to pay rent currently, as well as potential new residents from low SES backgrounds. ANU currently has the most affordable student accommodation of any Group of 8 university, but such an increase would prevent these students from gaining the world-class education the Vice-Chancellor is striving for. When the VC was confronted about how students would beunable to pay the $260-270 a week increase, it seemed as it had not crossed his mind, with a simple “we’ll need to think about that”.

Furthermore, international students have so far been left out of the conversation. These students already pay an exorbitant amount for tuition, and will now pay even more for their residential experience. Fenner has one of the highest rates of international student cohorts across the Halls, but consultation has been minimal.

Another issue is that the relocation of Fenner to Daley Road will completely change the culture of the Hall. Fenner’s unique off-campus position has shaped the Hall and the residential experience of the students there. It has meant that residents have ‘university’ and ‘home’ as distinct entities. They can come back to a room without the hustle of university, but still enjoy all the benefits of living at a student residence.

Its off-campus location means residents have actively been involved on campus, with Fenner residents found at all levels of student organisations. Last year, there was one Fenner resident or alumni elected in each pair of college representatives on ANUSA, as well as one Executive member and General Representatives.

Fenner’s unique culture develops strong leaders both within Fenner and on-campus.

Furthermore, its Northbourne Avenue location grants a certain lifestyle, uniquely enjoyed by Fenner residents, which has further contributed to its culture. A quick walk to Mandalay, Lonsdale Street Roasters or even Maccas has shaped residents’ experience. With brunch in Braddon and other such experiences close at hand, Fenner has developed strong relationships with local businesses who will no doubt feel the impact if Fenner has to leave.

Fenner’s incredibly high retention rate of residents shows that it creates an environment where people want to stay and contribute. There’s a strong sense of pride that comes with living at Fenner. While we often lament the ovens and old carpet, it’s our home.

The removal of Fenner from Northbourne means future students will never be able enjoy and experience the same residential experience as we have had before them. These towers are more than a bed and a communal kitchen. It is a unique experience that will never be replicated.

Fenner residents want to stay on Northbourne. There’s no doubt that this community has developed because of its strong sense of belonging. And whilst these emotional sentiments have their place, it’s also true that these new reforms will prevent certain students from being able to afford ANU and its unique residential lifestyle. That’s why Fenner will fight to keep Fenner where it is.

[Albert Patajo is a 5th year Law/Science student and a Senior Resident at Fenner Hall. He currently writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@thealbertjames/]