Trinity College Cambridge has been accused of taking punitive measures after telling students they could be abruptly removed from their accommodation in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.
Trinity College, which has reported assets of £1.5bn, has told students living in the college’s halls of residence to sign a new contract that warns they will be “required to move, without help from college, to alternative college accommodation, or out of college, at very short notice”.
“If college accommodation is withdrawn from you, you must return home or find alternative accommodation elsewhere, at your own cost. The college will provide temporary alternative safe accommodation at another location only if there is a truly exceptional reason as to why you cannot obtain alternative accommodation,” the agreement states.
College porters would “secure repossession” of rooms if students refuse to comply.
The contract has raised public health concerns among student union officers, who are set to meet local authority officials later this week to discuss the implications of Trinity’s policy. The college’s master is Dame Sally Davies, England’s former chief medical officer.
A spokesperson for Trinity said: “These measures are needed for the college to deal with potentially serious challenges in the short and longer term. The college is committed to acting responsibly in all matters related to public health. No student will be without accommodation if they cannot return home or have nowhere else to live.”
Trinity’s contract, described as a “Covid-19 student community statement”, instructs students to “bring only the minimum amount of belongings that you require, primarily for academic purposes and basic living standards”. It warns that they “must have prepared travel plans to leave college accommodation, at your expense, at very short notice and at any time unless you have been granted permission to stay”.
The contract also requires students to “store in your room three days’ supply of non-perishable food for use in the event of a lockdown”.
Cambridge University’s student union said Trinity’s measures were “extremely punitive”, adding: “Most concerning is that the contract reserves the college’s right to evict students at their complete discretion, which will place affected students in positions of vulnerability and precarity.
“All staff, students and Cambridge residents will be at greater risk if Trinity acts on this stated intention, which is in contravention of government guidelines.”
Last week, the Department for Education published coronavirus guidelines for higher education institutions that could keep students in campus accommodation in the event of local lockdowns being imposed.
Charlotte Barnard, a student representative for homeless students and those estranged from their families, called on Trinity to make provisions for students whose permanent home is in college.
“The last time the university went into lockdown, many students went back to homes, families and living-situations that were unsafe, with severe detriment to their mental health and ability to carry out academic tasks,” Barnard said.
“For these students, Trinity’s statement holds them hostage: they are being told that they will not be entitled to any accommodation unless they sign a statement accepting that they could be asked to leave at any time and at their own expense.”
A spokesperson for the college said: “Trinity’s priority is the safety of the college community. In line with government guidance, the college has put in place a range of measures for the Michaelmas term to reduce the risk of infection during the ongoing public health situation.”
The college said it “continues to engage with the University of Cambridge and to monitor public health guidance from the UK government for higher education institutions in order to update measures at the college as required”.
One Trinity student told the Guardian they were concerned about the financial burden the college’s new rules placed on students. “Like many other students I regard college as something of a home, and I have been looking forward to returning for months,” the student said.
“But if it can’t be managed without setting down these frightening and intrusive conditions one has to question whether it is really in the best interests of the students to return en masse for the start of term.”
For the latest news and updates, follow us on Google News. Also, if you like our efforts, consider sharing this story with your friends, this will encourage us to bring more exciting updates for you.