Reno Grumble

16 October 2017

As many as 50 University College (UC) residents at the University of Melbourne are being forced to live in alternative accommodation due to allegedly delayed renovations to the college.

The students are currently living in UniLodge – which they say is a 20 minute walk from College Crescent. They must travel back and forth to eat their meals, go to class and attend social events.

Before arriving at the college, students were allegedly promised that the renovations would be completed within a semester, by mid-2017. Now, students say they have been told the renovations may not be completed until halfway through 2018.

Interstate student, James*, never had the chance to stay at the UC’s main campus. He says he was “suspicious” when the contract he received from UC before he moved to Melbourne detailed a Swanston Street campus.

He says he received information detailing the UniLodge accommodation two to three months prior to the start of the academic term. Students also say they didn’t know who within the new intake would be staying in UniLodge until three to four days before offers could be declined.

“It definitely wasn’t enough time [to find alternative accommodation] … we weren’t familiar with Melbourne or the accommodation system here. I was just coming back from overseas so there wasn’t the time to find another place to stay,” he said.

James says he doesn’t go over to the college to study anymore. Going back and forth between campuses wastes too much time. With his heavy study load, there are plenty of days where he doesn’t go to the main campus for meals or to meet friends at all.

“College life is meant to be much more convenient than living by yourself, but at the moment, it’s the opposite.”

Students staying at Swanston Street UniLodge aren’t paying full fees. Instead they are receiving a rebate. Farrago has received reports that students could be getting as much as $2,000 back per semester. But students don’t think that’s quite enough.

Former UC UniLodge resident Nick* says they should be paying the same amount as non-residential college students, college students who do not lodge at the college, with UniLodge accommodation fees added on.

Nick moved out of UC mid-year because he wasn’t getting the college experience he thought he would.

“I guess it wasn’t really what I signed up for,” he said. “Even though there were 70 of us at the UniLodge, our rooms weren’t all next to each other. We were on different floors, it was wherever they put us essentially.”

Current UC UniLodge resident, Michael* agrees.

“When I think about college, I think about living in the same corridor as others and getting to know them, and that becoming a group of people you see every day. [Living at UniLodge], you do miss out on that feature, which is the essential part. It’s the difference between living in a college and not living in a college,” he said.

As uncovered by Farrago earlier this year, UniLodge is notorious for its unhygienic living conditions.

“You see rats, mice. The UniLodge I’m living in is considered to be the worst in Melbourne. Other than the location, it’s horrible,” James said.

The renovations aren’t just affecting those living in UniLodge accommodation. Former UC boarder, Sarah*, moved out in mid-2016 due to the disruption the renovations were causing to her study life.

“I hated it. It was really loud. It just didn’t feel like home,” she said.

She also noted the lack of privacy felt due to the constant presence of construction workers.

“Even if I just wanted to have my curtain up during the day, I just felt like I was being watched.”

Upon deciding to leave, Sarah said she had to organise multiple meetings so she could get out of paying the exit fee. If she hadn’t pushed, she believes she would have been forced to pay the fee for breaking her contract.

Michael noted the college is doing things to make the situation better. Uber rides to and from the campus are reimbursed, and the college often hosts special events for the UniLodge students.

Mostly though, students are tired of being lied to about when they will finally be able to move into the main campus.

“They never make it clear, that’s the problem,” James said.

“If they mess up, they just arrange an event that makes us happy … to distract us from what’s actually happening.”

Head of UC, Jennifer McDonald rejected all requests for comment made by Farrago.

* All names have been changed to protect the anonymity of sources.

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