Eliza Croft, Michael Turvey, and Laura Farag
Many UniLodge residents have found themselves out in the cold after their applications to return in 2018 were rejected. ANU has allegedly requested that Unilodge free up 800 beds – more than 40% of current residents will be leaving, including many who had hoped to return. Similar situations are unfolding at other residences, with Fenner and Bruce Hall reporting high rejection rates.
When the renewal outcomes came to light yesterday, the UniLodge Residents’ Committee called an Emergency General Meeting. At the meeting, President Lewis Laverty Wilson said that originally Unilodge had predicted about 500 people would need to leave, but that number later increased to the current 840. Elsewhere, Fenner Residents’ Committee President Vicky Xia told Observer she believed about 40 Fenner residents had had their applications to return rejected, “about double the usual amount”. Xia believes this was under the direction of the University, telling Observer, “I think it is really unfortunate that our staff are in a situation where they have to cull people to meet the bed quotas from central admin.” Bruce Hall faces similar circumstances, with a person with insight into the process telling Observer, “I understand that our returners rate is similar to other colleges.”
While currently only the percentage of beds emptied at UniLodge has been made public (42%), ANU in a statement said that “UniLodge returners rates for 2018 are projected to be consistent with the other ANU halls”. Last year saw 36% of Lodge rooms vacated, according to ANU, making this a 6 point spike. However, backlash to this year’s rates appears to have been exacerbated by two factors: concerns over selection practices, and flow-on from the first year guarantee.
ANU said the high rate of rejections is a necessary feature of the University’s accommodation guarantee, referring to ANU’s promise that all first year undergraduate students from outside the ACT will be able to live on campus. However, due to ever-increasing numbers of first years, this guarantee has become difficult to meet. 2015 saw a first year undergraduate placed in the predominantly postgraduate Laurus Wing, and in 2016 new students were placed in a youth hostel in civic. Many students have also been placed UniLodge residences at the University of Canberra.
The first year guarantee has also impacted the populations of halls, and is partly responsible for the high rejection rates; over the past few years, hall populations have become younger and therefore less willing to leave voluntarily. Bruce has felt the effects of an increased first year population especially hard. Because Bruce has “allocated so many first years this year”, the rejection rate was much higher, a student with insight into the process told Observer. “Normally we had a higher proportion of second and third years who were happy to move out … we had far more people wanting to return than usual.”
Many residents have also expressed concern about how returners were selected. Students alleged to have been rejected from UniLodge include current Senior Residents, and residents who had participated in many college activities, such as Inward Bound. Conversely, one UniLodge resident said they had been offered readmission despite “no participation in UniLodge life, multiple transgressions, and an application that I left mostly blank”. These concerns of involved residents being rejected have been echoed by some at Bruce Hall. One resident told Observer that it felt like “old Brucies” [those in second year or later] were being particularly targeted, and another gave examples of seemingly very involved residents being rejected. Xia reported that while most of those rejected at Fenner “can see why they were culled”, she believed they “did have more to give the college…and had been involved”.
Residents have expressed worry about maintaining the culture of their residences in light of the significant turnover. “With less later years, especially ressies not in leadership, colleges will struggle to maintain a healthy culture,” Xia told Observer. Wilson conceded at the EGM it would be “difficult” to maintain collegiate engagement with a low returner rate. A senior member of the Bruce community also expressed frustration: “If ANU wanted to be fair to the first years at Bruce, they needed to adjust the returners rate upwards to account for how many were admitted,” they said. “It’s all very good having a first year guarantee, but if those students aren’t able to stay on for longer then it’s not guaranteeing much.”
Residential leaders have warned against accepting rumour or making assumptions before more information comes to light. Laverty Wilson told residents of UniLodge that rumours of international students being preferenced over domestic students were “untrue”, and Observer can confirm there is no evidence currently to suggest that is the case. Several UniLodge residents also raised questions as to why rejection rates were higher at Lodges than other halls, however full information on returner rates for other halls is not yet public, and ANU has claimed that there will be similar rates of returners at all halls.
ANU has promised to offer workshops on seeking housing in Canberra in coming weeks.