As ANU’s campus redevelopments continue to roll forward, it seems ANU is withholding crucial information about how their new privatisation agreement will work, and how much the residents will be made to pay.
Bruce Hall (also referred to as SA5) gives us some clues. Where Bruce residents paid approximately $367 per week in 2016, new residents this year must pay $392.05 per week. As a consolation, returning residents pay $377 per week – but there is no confirmation whether that will continue beyond this year.
Managed by UniLodge, Bruce Hall has become a guinea pig in ANU’s privatisation experiment. Just like in the UniLodge residences on the other side of campus, Bruce Hall students must pay $6 to wash and dry their clothes – a cost that was included in their weekly tariff last year. And there are more hidden costs already creeping in – such as the $15 fee each time a resident locks themselves out of their room. UniLodge’s intentions are sometimes too transparent. Despite repeated requests, they still haven’t put up any washing lines at the new Bruce Hall, forcing residents to have to pay the $3 extra to dry their clothes. Some residents fear that prices could jump to as high as $433 per week next year.
Bruce Hall representatives did not reply to Woroni’s request for comment – twice. And that’s the problem. With these seismic changes to ANU’s accommodation policy, there needs to be a clear and open line of communication between the university and the students. Instead, the only idea we have about how private investors will manipulate accommodation costs comes from the ‘FAQ’ section of one of Brian Schmidt’s press releases – which reads that ‘Student rents will not exceed 75 per cent of market rates, and rental tariffs will be calculated based on a pre-determined formula referenced to changes in the consumer price index’.
The first issue with that is that no one knows what the hell ‘75 per cent of market rates’ means. In Canberra, the median weekly rent for a unit is $411. The ANU accommodations where rent currently sits above 75 percent of that include Bruce Hall, Ursula Hall, Burgmann College, John XXIII College, and most of the UniLodge residences. When asked to clarify what that ‘75 per cent’ figure was, ANU spokespeople said ‘we will ensure rents will not exceed 75 per cent of the current market rates for similar accommodation in the Canberra Community’. Even if the university truly caps prices at 75 per cent of the median Canberra unit, an 18-year-old working in retail would have to work 15 hours a week, at award rates, to cover their accommodation costs alone.
It’s difficult to know for sure, but the circumstances seem fishy enough to guess that a big fat price hike is coming our way. We, as students, don’t know what the price cap is – or even whether one exists – because no one except for ANU and UniLodge know what’s inside their contract. There is clearly also a capacity for private investors to stack hidden costs – like imposing fines, and charging for washing, drying and vacuum cleaner hire – in their favour.
For a new accommodation direction that has advertised itself as a way to get more people into on-campus accommodation, this risks pushing low socioeconomic students into accommodation in Canberra’s suburbs. The repercussions of this are unknown but reasonably predictable – financially disadvantaged students would be denied key elements of university culture, they would struggle to make the most of the on-campus resources, and inevitably participate less in student events. By maintaining public, not-for-profit ownership of large swathes of student accommodation, ANU has prevented this from happening for decades. However, Schmidt’s new accommodation plan marks a massive shift in the program.
According to a press release from August 2016, the accommodation agreement will cover ‘the new student residence building under construction, Burton & Garran Hall, Graduate House, Toad Hall, Ursula Hall, Lena Karmel Lodge, Kinloch Lodge and Warrumbul Lodge’. ANU is not telling us how much we will have to pay, nor are they telling us who will have the leases of accommodation beyond the new building, or how much control they have over peripherals like additional costs, fines, and student life.
The most explicit cost hike is to the average ANU student’s rent. That’s bad enough. But hidden beneath this plan is a cost to the poorest students that is hard to measure and almost impossible to rectify.