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Saturday, 7 November 2020

Covid, Students, And More Rent Controversy

As Zelo Street regulars will know, a Greater London University is encountering some resistance to its demand that students pay accommodation costs between 24 March and 8 April this year, which I am advised comes to around £800 a head. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, on the first of those two dates, the University’s interim Vice Chancellor had told students they should go home if able to do so.

Why so? Ah well. This is because on the evening of the previous day, alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson had finally come to terms with the Covid-19 pandemic and ordered the UK to lock down. Non-essential shops, restaurants, pubs, all were closed. Live sporting events were called off. Trade fairs and festivals were postponed or cancelled. And educational facilities had to shut down or go online.

Dave Hartnett’s YouTube video message to St Mary’s students was unequivocal. “For those students currently remaining in University accommodation, Public Health England have advised us that you should go home, if you can safely do so. We will be in touch shortly with those who cannot leave, to explain how we will support you over the coming days and weeks. The only staff who should now be working on site are a small number of colleagues in Estates and Campus Services”. Published on 24 March.

And this is what Matt Hancock said in the Commons in response to a suggestion that some Universities were still open: “on public health grounds we made it absolutely clear that we were taking steps to close schools, nurseries, universities and colleges, except for the children of key workers where they absolutely need to be at school, for example where neither parent can look after them. However, all those at university can stay at home on their own and do not need a parent, so I do not think there is any excuse whatever”.

Yet, in a letter to Dame Eleanor Laing, St Mary’s Vice Chancellor Anthony McClaren asserted that “St Mary’s remained open throughout the pandemic”. The impression is given that some serious obfuscation is taking place. Hartnett told students to go home on March 24. Maybe there was some serious money involved here?

That looks possible if one consults a Freedom of Information request made in September. In response to the question “How many students terminated their onsite accommodation licence agreement on the 8th April 2020?” the answer was “598 students requested and were released from their license agreement as of 8th April 2020 due to Covid19”.

Multiplying 589 by 800 gives £478,400. Now consider the St Mary’s “Students Charter” on response to the pandemic. “As a student I will … follow any direction received from University staff to help support me in adhering to the [Government and University] requirements [around health and safety]”. They were given direction. To go home.

But then, guess what? Dave Hartnett’s video giving that instruction was taken private. Sadly for whoever made that move, someone has recorded Hartnett’s broadcast and put that on YouTube in its place. Why take it private, other than to remove evidence?

Clearly, if St Mary’s University refunds all those 598 students, or ceases to require them to make the £800 payment, they will be out of pocket instead of the students. But their reputation will be down the pan. Maybe they should consider doing the right thing.

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1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Hartnett's got form for secrecy, with his secret sweetheart tax deals with big corporations.

Wonder if Hartnett is willing to go to court, to enforce this? If so how long before M'learned friends tell the Uni to settle.