How UTas’ housing decision unfolded

One week ago, rumours began circulating among residents in University of Tasmania (UTas) accommodation complexes of an impending announcement, but no one could have predicted what was to come next.

In the weeks prior, some students had received offers for accommodation in 2019, but many had not, prompting students to question if a new process of acceptance had been implemented.

It all came to a head on Monday when UTas sent out an email to existing residents stating students coming to Hobart from other parts of Tasmania and students entering first year of university study would be prioritised in getting accommodation for 2019.

Tasmania University Union (TUU) President, Sharifah Syed Rohan was contacted by a number of concerned students over the weekend prior to Monday’s announcement, and was was poised to react when the email was sent out.

Within an hour of the announcement, the TUU issued a media release on behalf of UTas students condemning the decision, and launched a petition soon after.

Within two hours, the petition had over 1200 signatures and the developing situation was gathering traction on social media.

“The TUU State Council is calling on UTas to halt its decision to offer more accommodation to first-year students if it comes at the expense of the accommodation for existing students,” the statement read.

“Students have been left in limbo, and this is unacceptable.”

Students began to mobilise and residents were encouraged to contact local politicians after being told by UTas to turn to online real estate sites and Facebook pages to find alternative accommodation.

As Monday came to an end, the Advocate and Mercury newspapers had published articles on the decision and students were prepared to share their stories.

The following morning, news of a ‘special accommodation offer’ from UTas to international students broke.

Some incoming international students had been told they could ‘skip the queue’ if they paid an upfront deposit.

UTas quickly recalled the campaign, saying in a statement the offer “does not align with our University values and the campaign was recalled as soon as we were made aware.”

Students who remained in Hobart over summer gathered in the courtyard of the Hobart Apartments to share their stories with the media on Tuesday morning, generating coverage from the ABC, 7 Tasmania, WIN, Mercury, Advocate and Examiner.

UTas clarified on Tuesday afternoon that students from the state’s north and north-west, Tasmanian scholarship recipients, and interstate and international commencing students would be prioritised in the allocation process.

Returning international students are part of the demographic that is most likely to miss out. Medical student Paree Khandelwal said they have been given “no compassion”.

“I feel incredibly hurt knowing I’ve been done over by a university I’ve been so loyal to,” she said.

“It’s painful knowing that you aren’t accepted in a place you’ve made your own.”

The fallout from the decision deepened today, with statements from university executive contradicting information given to students.

In 2016, residents returning to university accommodation were told “as a current resident, you will automatically be offered a place” if they had “a sound financial payment history” and “a satisfactory history of behaviour.”

The information remains available on the UTas website and contradicts media statements made by Executive Director of Student Experience, Stephanie Taylor.

“It is important to note that acceptance in any year does not imply ongoing accommodation in our properties,” Ms Taylor said, despite advice on the university’s website.

Hobart Councillor, Holly Ewin, has organised a rally to be held at 4pm on Saturday starting at Hobart’s Parliament Lawns.

“Enough is enough. Being ‘nice’ and ‘concerned’ isn’t working. Now we’re angry,” the Facebook event reads.

“Why does UTas feel this is an acceptable approach to the already dire housing crisis in Hobart?”

The TUU launched petition is now tracking close to 5000 signatures and calls on UTas to “rectify this situation and provide all returning residents with guaranteed on-campus accommodation.”

A potential class action has been flagged by some students.

More students have received confirmations of tenancy for 2019 as the controversy has unfolded, but it remains to be seen how many miss out.

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