Address the Mess:

Inquiry into Student Accommodation Hui

During the lockdown, some students were still paying for empty student accommodation. On May 27, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) sent a letter to students threatening that they will withhold email access, grades, and graduation if accommodation bills were not paid within three days.  

When questioned about this, AUT initially said that they had “no knowledge” of the letter as it was sent by the Campus Living Village (CLV) automatic system. CLV disputed this fact, saying that they do not have the authority to do so and therefore the email was sent under the jurisdiction of AUT.  

AUT later retracted their original statement, and said “A mistake was made by an AUT staff member who agreed rent recovery could resume during Level 2”. AUT said they would contact the 21 affected students to apologise.  

This raises many questions regarding the intentions and approach of the student accommodation sector, which has sparked a bipartisan Select Committee inquiry into the issue in hopes to initiate reforms.  

On June 10, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association (NZUSA) hosted a panel to discuss the reasoning of the inquiry and encourage anyone who has dealt with student accommodation to make a submission.  

The panel included Chlöe Swarbrick, Green Party MP and Tertiary Spokesperson; Dr Shane Reti, National Party MP and Tertiary Spokesperson; Jan Tinetti, Labour Party MP and Deputy Chairperson of the Education and Workforce Select Committee; Andrew Lessells, President of Eastern Institute of Technology Students’ Association; and Mamaeroa Merito representing Te Mana Ākonga Tumuaki Takirua. 

Key points from the panel: 

  • Encourage anyone who is thinking of going into, is in, or has been in student accommodation to make a submission to the committee by July 2.  This includes parents who are thinking of having their child(ren) go into student accommodation.
  • Submission forms and how to submit can be found here: http://www.students.org.nz/inquiry?fbclid=IwAR2gQhxEKGEwovkb0bIqUCy8ea7acBrmzVQR6eZjqk-eD_bFPVX49J1GK1o 
  • Currently, there is no universal standard in place on how student accommodation is run. The inquiry seeks to suggest a policy to make student accommodation providers more universal in their approach.
  • Similarly, dispute resolution is individualbased. This means that students often feel alone and powerless when dealing with a dispute in the accommodations. The inquiry hopes to suggest a policy which helps to standardise the process. 
  • The inquiry hopes to better integrate and promote Māori culture rather than tokenism (inclusivity for the sake of inclusivity). 
  • There was not a pastoral care code before the death of Mason Pendrous at UC last year. This means that the accommodation providers were accountable only to themselves before Mason’s death. 
  • The current status quo means that students are treated as a commodity to profit out off and balance universities chequebooks. The inquiry hopes to rectify this issue by putting the students first. 
  • Sexual violence is a significant issue in the accommodations; the inquiry hopes to find solutions in dealing with this issue. 

Submissions are crucial in the Select Committee process; the committee will gather information and augments from both the providers and the students. Thus, any policy that will come out of this will depend on the quality of submissions. 

 By Leo He