Coronavirus: Nikki Kaye calls out 'unethical' treatment of university students in halls of residence

The National Party's Education Minister says she is "heartbroken" over the treatment of university students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nikki Kaye told Magic Talk's Sean Plunket the fact that some students are being made to pay for rooms they can't live in is "unethical". 

"They are some of the most vulnerable in society in my opinion," she said.

"They don't have much cash and some of them can't go home and now they're facing two bills."

Her comments follow news that Victoria University of Wellington is asking students in its campus housing to pay a weekly rent of $150 throughout the level 3 lockdown despite not being able to return to their rooms until level 2. 

A spokesperson from the university says while they recognise it is an "unwelcome charge", the $150 rent is a bargain.

"The 100 percent discount [Victoria University] has applied to the cost of the rooms during the level 4 lockdown will come to an end after 28 April," they told Newshub.

"Instead of paying all the costs of the halls, the university will now move to a policy of passing on 100 percent of the savings from the partially empty halls to the students through the discounts it is offering."

Victoria University says it has incurred costs of more than $2 million since the lockdown began.

Halls of residence costs have been cross-subsidised by tuition fees, but as tuition fees are meant for the education of all students and not the accommodation of some, the cost-cutting is not sustainable.

A similar situation is occurring at Auckland University too, with student Mitchell Howell telling Newshub it was "ridiculous".

"We've had to pay the entire time whether we chose to stay there or not. It's a ridiculously high number - it's $268 a week that we have to pay from the day we left to the day we return."

He says the alternative for students who don't want to pay for accommodation during lockdown is to cancel their room and move out entirely. But if they do, students must pay $1500 as an early cancellation fee.

Kaye says the situation is completely unfair. 

"I don't think this is fair, I think it's a wee bit unethical given that we have a number of students in hardship.

"I've written to the minister but we really need the Government to step up and work with the tertiary sector to make sure this isn't happening."

The Government announced earlier this month that course-related costs would be increased by $1000, bringing the total that could be borrowed this year to $2000. Course-related costs must be repaid as part of student loans.