A student has told of the ‘shocking’ treatment at university after catching Covid-19 and going into self-isolation with a bag of pasta between six.
Josefina Nagler Gomez is among those withholding an estimated £2million in rent from the University of Bristol in protest at their treatment during the national restrictions, when she was stuck in a cramped flat for 10 days.
The 18-year-old and five housemates had to lock down in their flat in Unite House after two of the group tested positive at the start of term in September.
She says food parcels sent by the university to the living circle had only ‘one bag of pasta’ and ‘randomly thrown together’ ingredients, including tins of jackfruit.
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The law student is withholding the £6,000 she owes for the academic year on her £172-a-week accommodation, which is in addition to her £9,000 tuition fees.
In response to her comments, the university said that students’ health and safety is of ‘paramount importance’ and the majority were happy with the ‘additional measures’ for their well-being.
Josefina said: ‘The measures were really unclear about what to do if you caught Covid.
‘The uni told the BBC and other news outlets that they were providing us with food boxes and cleaning and laundry services. No one in the flat got cleaning or laundry help.
‘We tried to order the food boxes from a database you log into when you’re self-isolating. You’re meant to receive an automatic reply confirming it’s being delivered but it didn’t happen and we had to call and chase the university’s well-being team about what to do.
‘When we got through the guy on the phone asked us, “what do you want us to be doing?”
‘The four food boxes we did get hadn’t been thought through. Between six of us we ended up with one bag of pasta and it was all randomly thrown together. Three of them were vegan, though none of us are vegan.
‘There were ten large tins of jackfruit and a saver bag of Walker crisps with no fresh veg or fruit, though that’s changed now.
‘There were no sanitary products either. They said we could order supermarket deliveries but there was a massive influx of people going into the lockdown at the time with a four or five day wait. If anybody had been on their period, they wouldn’t have been able to get anything the next day. It was shocking.
‘This all happened after the university had all summer to prepare and make it safe for us to be here.’
Despite testing negative, four of the housemates still had to quarantine in the flat for a longer 14-day period in case they showed symptoms.
They were entitled to one food box each.
Josefina said: ‘There was no provision for us to have outside time. The most my window opened was enough to stick one arm out, that was all the fresh air I got in my room. I felt nauseous and got cabin fever.
‘Being stuck in two rooms accentuates the feeling of being sea-sick and then there was the fear of being in the same room as people who don’t have it and not wanting to make them sick. But if you don’t want to be in your room the entire time there’s only other place you can be.’
Josefina, an EU student, says she has only had two face-to-face seminars to date despite being promised ‘blended learning’ mixing online and physical attendance.
She is among more than 1,400 Bristol students who have joined a rent strike reportedly worth more than £2million.
The first-year, who moved to Bristol from London but is of a Belgian-Colombian background, is already more than £2,000 in debt on her rent account.
The Bristol Rent Strike group is due to meet the university’s board of trustees on Friday to find out if it will agree a 30 per cent rent cut, no-penalty contract releases and deposit returns for international students.
The university has already agreed to place sanitary products in food boxes and to clarify the role of security guards, according to the group.
Josefina said: ‘The university promised we would get blended learning and would be safe in doing so.
‘They sent us numerous emails saying that it would be safe and definitely worth the six grand in accommodation fees. I have been here for over a month now and only had the two, in-person seminars.
‘Everybody now has the option to only take part in online so there’s no need for us to be here paying accommodation fees. I’m waiting to see what the university say on Friday, but if they do not agree to everything we are asking for, I’m going to keep on withholding my rent.’
The university says on its website that it has put in place ‘enhanced measures’ to ensure students’ safety, including increased cleaning, and provides regular updates and advice online.
A spokesperson said: ‘The health and wellbeing of all our students is of paramount importance to us. Our staff have been working tirelessly since the start of term to support those who are self-isolating as we follow Government guidance and advice to keep everyone safe.
‘As part of our package of support, free food boxes were sent to every student who had to self-isolate. We are sorry to hear that Josefina was unhappy with her food box. We have clear processes in place for students to get in touch if they have any problems, questions or concerns and we will do our upmost to resolve these as quickly as possible.
‘The majority of feedback from students on the additional measures we have put in place has been positive.
‘We have always been clear about our plan to offer a blend of online and in-person teaching, which has been designed to provide students with the very best education while keeping them safe. It also ensures students can still continue with their studies online if they are self-isolating or choose not to come to Bristol.
‘In-person teaching which will be offered until early December before students can return home to conclude this term’s studies online should they wish to do so.
‘To reflect the earlier date that many students will now be leaving university accommodation, we have decided to provide a rent rebate equivalent to 10 days’ rent. It’s important to highlight that we do not make a profit from student rent – all accommodation fees are used for operating, maintaining, and improving the residences.
‘This includes 24/7 pastoral and wellbeing support.
‘Although students are facing some necessary restrictions to safeguard their health and the health of others during the pandemic, we have been as flexible as possible and believe we’ve gone above and beyond to provide support.’
Metro.co.uk has approached the university for further comment.
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