Paulius Vaitiekus. Support for students during quarantine: what has been done?

The coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing quarantine have become a challenge for everyone, including students. Questions arose about how the study process will be organized, how the assessments and practices will take place. The issue of accommodation has become particularly acute.

The first decisions were made only after the start of quarantine

We started talking to the administration about the situation of students living in VMU dormitories already in the first week of quarantine. The first steps were taken by the university itself – to reduce the financial burden during this difficult period, a decision was made to allow the payment for studies or dormitory to be postponed until the end of the quarantine. Yes, this option can help, but it does not solve the problem itself, so other solutions have been put in place to help students.

VMU Student Representatives had a goal to reduce the dormitory fee. The initial position, which I officially presented during the Rectorate meeting, was to apply a 50% discount on the accommodation fee to all VMU students, regardless of whether they currently live in a dormitory or not. The purpose of this proposal was to take into account both the expectations of students who moved out of the dormitory during the quarantine but wanted to preserve their place, as well as those still living in it, and to alleviate the financial burden. The Rectorate did not accept such an advantage due to a lack of numerical justification: it was not clear how much financial resources would be needed. For this reason, a working group was set up to carry out all the necessary calculations and make a decision that would meet the expectations of the students.

Dormitory discount – 25%

We represented the students in the working group together with the coordinator of the Social Affairs Committee Ieva. Representatives of the administration said that a 50% rebate would be too costly and therefore suggested 15% as the most optimal option. We were not satisfied with that decision, so we wanted the benefit to be greater. Succeeded – the accommodation fee was reduced by 25%. Although this was not a full achievement of the original goal, it appeared to be a starting point that would reduce the difficulties students experience with coronavirus.

Possibility to terminate the accommodation contract and save the available room

As a significant number of students moved out of the dormitory during the quarantine, a solution was needed that would allow them not to pay the accommodation fee but to keep the available room. The formulated proposal on the possibility to save the dormitory space for students who terminated the accommodation contract was submitted for further consideration to the Rector, the Director of Administration and the Department of Student Affairs. Initial reactions were mixed: there was no opposition to the idea itself, but consideration was given to granting such an option only from May 1st. The Student Representation took the position that the procedure should apply to those who terminated contracts from the start of quarantine. Finally, it was decided that students who terminated their contracts from April 1st would have the opportunity to return to the same dormitory room by July 31st.

Students had a number of questions about personal items: why take them out if they returned to the same dorm room? The Student Representative’s proposal to keep items in the rooms was not accepted because the University did not want to take responsibility for the items left. In addition, rooms will need to be prepared for outgoing students. In order to facilitate the removal process at least to some extent, the Student Representatives submitted a proposal to extend the removal period (which is normally given 3 days). This offer has been accepted and students have 10 working days to move out during the quarantine period.

Other support options

A fund to help coronavirus victims has also been set up at the initiative of the university. It is intended for students whose parents or one of their parents has lost their job or otherwise their income has been significantly reduced during the quarantine period announced by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. It is possible to receive a reduction in the tuition fee, a reduction in the fee for accommodation in a university dormitory, to partially reimburse the incurred expenses for the services provided, to grant one-time scholarships.

Today, we can be glad that the University has taken into account the suggestions made by the Student Representative regarding the financial situation of students. Not all the decisions taken fully met the goals set, but this is an important step forward in ensuring the well-being of one of the most vulnerable social groups, students. Developing a constructive dialogue with the administration continues to look for ways to improve the support system, guarantee the integrity of the study process and ensure that both the material and psychological consequences of the pandemic are mitigated and students are prepared to return to university.