At a period in which housing affordability is a critical issue to all Australians, it was inevitable that the shock waves of this crisis would influence the student population of Australia’s national university. Housing affordability has always been a concern for the students of ANU, but recently has become more significant than usual. Conversation has been rekindled as students have been transferred from their current, less expensive halls to Wright Hall due to a lack of transparency regarding the new returners application process.
In past weeks, a small number of students reapplying for colleges such as Fenner, Bruce and Burton & Garran were denied their first preference and subsequently moved to new colleges – particularly Wright – in order to fill quotas. A lack of transparency in the reapplication process has meant that many students who cannot afford the rates demanded by new halls have been forced to make a significant financial decision as to whether they accept an offer and a financial burden or reject ANU accommodation options and take on the inconvenience of unplanned house-searching.
A lack of clarity about the transfer process did not allow students to make a properly informed decision regarding their accommodation preferences. As such, some students placed Wright as a ‘second preference’, not aware that this choice could override their first preference. ANU Accommodation could have avoided this easily by keeping the transfer and readmission process separate, as has been the practice in the past, or by explicitly informing applicants that a second preference may impact their chances of gaining admission to their first preference. In this case, students would have been in a better position to explore alternative accommodation options having recognised the financial responsibility of potentially being accepted into a more expensive hall.
It was inevitable that a disruption to pre-existing college communities would arise from the introduction of new residential halls. These halls have beds that need to filled and communities that need to be created in order to weave themselves into the fabric of the ANU. If they are to be of worth, as they surely will be, time and effort needs to be taken in building their central values, spirit and population much like those that current colleges already possess. It’s also important to acknowledge that these new hall needs to be profitable and sustainable. Wright and New Bruce offer a range of new facilities that reasonably demand a relatively high weekly rate which is similar to those of other catered colleges.
It is difficult to ignore that many of those students reallocated from pre-existing colleges are those who have previously sought out self-catered, less expensive accommodation. We understand the situation that accommodation administration faces with the challenge of these new halls. However, the lack of compensation for students who genuinely cannot afford such a hike in rates leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of afflicted students and has the potential to foster resentment within and towards these nascent communities. If students are really required to be transferred from self-catered to catered residences, the existence of transition bursaries for students who have been removed from more affordable colleges would minimise feelings of frustration. ANU accommodation services should be more attentive to the financial situation of students, particularly those who have no financial assistance from family. Discounted fees should be offered to students who were denied their first preference and moved to Wright so that they are more in line with the prices of their current halls.
We acknowledge ANU’s commitment to offering a unique on-campus living experience which contributes greatly to our student experience. However, if our ambition for this new college is one of fairness and honesty, it seems contradictory that it will begin with a lack of transparency and compulsory transfers. If we want the vision for Wright as a welcoming and collegial community to be fulfilled, the introduction of some form of financial assistance or compensation for students who have been removed from their first preference seems warranted and even critical to its sustainability and acceptance on our campus.