Victoria University offers free bunk rooms at oversubscribed hostel
Victoria University has made a partial backdown after complaints that it was treating students "like they are cattle" by making them share bunk rooms.
First-years who signed up and paid for private rooms at Katharine Jermyn Hall, on the corner of The Terrace and Boulcott St, were shocked to be told on Wednesday evening – just four days before they were due to move in – that they would now be sharing bunk rooms with strangers.
The accommodation crisis came because the 380-room hall was oversubsubcribed and found itself 32 single rooms short, meaning 64 students would have to bunk up from Sunday.
They were told the cost of those shared rooms would be at discounted rates.
However, on Thursday evening, Jenny Bentley, director of campus services, said the university had written to "a number of" affected students at Katharine Jermyn, offering them free accommodation in shared rooms until single rooms became available.
Wednesday's original email came as a shock to students and their parents, many of whom had already paid out thousands of dollars on contracts for single rooms.
"Everyone is so angry and everyone's parents are going mental. Some people's parents want to sue the hostel for doing it," Victoria University first-year student Izzy Louisson said.
The father of an affected student said he was pretty annoyed, "to put it politely".
"They've deliberately oversubscribed the hall so they can maximise revenue ... the students are adults, they're moving from home, they're used to having their own space."
He said the university was abusing the power of knowing parents wanted their children to have a roof over their heads, and that accommodation was in short supply.
"But what about the safety and security of having a total stranger in their room?"
New Zealand Union of Students' Associations president Linsey Higgins said: "You can't just cram students into rooms like they are cattle.
"These students were days from moving into their new single room only to be told that they are now sleeping in bunk beds. These students are now being denied the privacy that they had signed up for.
"I hope that halls management urgently engages with the students affected to hear their concerns about sharing a room. It sounds like they were given no option but to accept the bunk room."
Weir House has also emailed students to say that the "overwhelming demand" for single rooms "has left us no option but to put you in a double room".
One Weir House student, who did not want to be named, said it was disappointing, at such short notice.
"We were invoiced for single rooms, that invoice was paid. Then I received an email saying there was a room change. This was six days before moving in."
Other students took to Facebook to express their frustration, one saying "How do you expect to get laid [without] privacy", another commenting "If I wanted a bunk bed I would visit my 6-year-old nephew".
The university said an increase in enrolments, and fewer than usual withdrawals, had led to the overbooking of rooms.
Bentley said: "With an unprecedentedly high number of students accepting a place at Katharine Jermyn Hall, we are currently 32 single rooms short, although this situation is expected to be resolved in the coming weeks.
"Before asking students to consider sharing, we investigated all other options for finding rooms, including hotels as well as other student accommodation elsewhere around Wellington. With big events on in the city, there is nothing available."
The free accommodation applied only to students at Katharine Jermyn, a spokesman said.
Weir House had also had a room shortage, but had asked for people to volunteer to share for a lower price, and enough students had taken up the offer.
He said the same had been done at Katharine Jermyn, but not enough had volunteered.
An earlier statement from the university said: "Historically, up to one-third of students withdraw their accommodation application before the academic year starts, so it is normal practice to accept slightly more applications than the number of rooms available.
"This year there has been a further increase in enrolments and a change in the number of withdrawals. This means we have more applications than single rooms available at the moment ..."
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