Last Wednesday (01/03/2023), a protest was held against the University of Queensland’s administration after the University decided to increase rents at UQ Res Accommodations by 20% in St Lucia and 40% in Gatton. The protest saw many students in attendance, spanning from Socialist activists, to regular students who have become fed up with the state of rental prices at UQ and in general. Two of the speakers from that day’s protest gave us some further insight into their thoughts on this issue, and just how deep the problem goes.
At a time where housing prices in this country are unobtainable for a large chunk of the population, and the cost of living is increasing with no end in sight, the University of Queensland has decided that now is the time to use excuses such as “market competition” to overshadow their outright predatory treatment of students, many of whom are living on their own for the first time in their lives. As Kaine – who is a Socialist activist on campus – puts it:
“Most of the people I know who stay in student accommodation, and especially those staying at UQ Res were moving from very far away to study here in Brisbane, and needed somewhere to live the moment they got here, myself included”.
Students who are unfamiliar with the nooks and crannies of the rental market – let alone those who are unfamiliar with Brisbane in general – are essentially arm-twisted into spending exorbitant amounts of money on rent just so they can live close to campus. But, while this issue has major effects for domestic students already, there are other challenges facing international students in this situation which often go unaddressed. Carlos – another activist who spoke at last week’s protest – spoke on some of these issues, and was willing to elaborate on them for this article:
“Most international students don’t feel confident to complain, due to a variety of reasons, for example being in a new country and not understanding the rules and social norms”
Which – let’s not kid ourselves – is an issue only exacerbated by complex housing policies and hard-to-navigate frameworks that are completely unfamiliar to any student, let alone those new to the country. The issue here isn’t just rent costs going up – while that is one of the primary issues here – another major issue for all students is the living conditions which are being facilitated by the university alongside these rent increases, Carlos elaborates:
“The management at UQ Res takes too long to solve most issues. I have been waiting essentially 8 months to get a copy of my mailbox key, alarms are going off regularly at random times of the day, and the elevator gets broken almost every month.”
Which goes to say – even if we were to be charitable towards the university on this issue (which we shouldn’t be) – then you would at least expect to see some improvement in living standards for students paying an extra 20% at the very least for these services. But we aren’t, the University has not improved living standards in these accommodations, so even given the most charitable perspective and circumstances, why should these students be paying this much more to simply live near campus?
But even if these services were being improved, it is simply not good enough that the University feels it necessary to charge these students exorbitant rental fees for them to have a roof over their heads. University students, especially those in their early years of tertiary education, are often working insecure, minimum wage jobs just to be able to afford rent and maybe a meal or two during the day. We see students lining up for free breakfast and dinners through Morning Marmalade and Kampus Kitchen every day, and the line just gets longer and longer as the weeks go by.
If you’d like to read more about this issue, a great article was written by Kaine (who provided us with some good quotes for this article) and Ash not long ago, so if you’d like to have a read of that please do so here.
But let’s talk about some of what happened on the day, March 1st, the protest against UQ Res. To put it softly, the University was less than welcoming to the demonstration last Wednesday, which further shows just how little regard for students and their welfare the Chancellery and the University really holds. The demonstration started on the grassy knoll with many students crowding around to listen to speeches and practice some chants, like any other protest would.
Then, leaders of the protest headed everyone towards Chancellors Place, where they gathered out the front to recite their chants as a demonstration of their united distaste and disillusionment (again, to put it lightly) with the University administration. UQ security was prepared for this and had ensured the front entryway was locked and guarded – until it wasn’t, that is. The doors had found their ways open, and many of the activists attending the protest had made their way inside Chancellors Place. It was here that we would see some – to be quite frank – disgraceful behaviour from UQ security.
UQ security was wrestling and mistreating activists who were peacefully demonstrating inside Chancellors Place. Whether you disagree with their practices or not, the fact that up until this point activists were not being physically violent means that the response from UQ Security was disproportionate and inappropriate.
To clarify, there is video evidence of UQ security doing these things – and we would go into further detail about the who’s and the what’s – but we would like to ensure the safety and privacy of the many activists involved in the scuffle which occurred. However, we have a statement from one of these activists regarding what happened:
“The University won’t listen to the concerns of students, so we tried to have a peaceful protest at the Vice Chancellor’s office. Security was way over the top, pushing us around and grabbing someone by the neck. We shouldn’t be treated like this at our University just for having a peaceful protest and occupying the Vice Chancellor’s office for 15 minutes. Students are facing rent increases of up to 40% from UQ, they’re the real victims here and should have their concerns heard.”