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Students at Wolfson College Suffer Their College’s Sustainability Goals

Wolfson College gives students rent reductions a month after an open letter of complaint was shared with the college.

by A.K.

What burden should Wolfson students bear for helping their college reach net-zero carbon emissions? Builders defiling their toilets, painting over mould, and bunging up their showers are just a few of the complaints alluded to in an open letter by affected students living in college accommodation. And as the students are not formal tenants, they have few rights.

To achieve their net-zero decarbonisation goals, Wolfson College is replacing windows and radiators in college accommodation during term, while also resurfacing the family courtyards.

The decarbonisation project at Wolfson College is paid for by a £5m government grant which has to be spent by March 2022. The building upgrades are expected to be completed by then.

Affected students say they were not told in advance about some of the works and were not given enough time to leave their rooms. In some cases, Wolfson College decided that 48 hours is enough notice for students to pack their belongings and move.

The students allege that they had to cope with contractors entering their rooms without notice, using their toilets without permission, and even without flushing, leaving their rooms dirty, disorganized and with broken items.

Even though some residents have weakened immune systems, workers were not wearing masks. Mould was painted over rather than removed.

We are confident that any disruption is a price worth paying to reach our net-zero carbon goal. Email Excerpt from Wolfson College, October 8th

Students in college accommodation sign licenses and not rental agreements. This gives colleges ample leeway over their “non-tenants” and grants students little recourse.

Initially, Wolfson College stated in an email on October 8th that they “are confident any disruption is a price worth paying for to reach our net-zero carbon goal.” And when Wolfson College told students about more upcoming construction works, the college offered free earplugs to block out the noise, not rent deductions.

On October 18th, a group of affected students handed a letter of complaint to the college leadership.

Now a month later, on November 19th, Wolfson College agreed to a rent reduction. A 25% rent reduction for two months is given to students who suffered the most disruptions, and a 10% rent reduction to other affected students.

This is a strong example of the way in which constructive and respectful discussions can lead to a conclusion which all feel is sensible. Sir Tim Hitchens, Wolfson College President, November 19th

In a statement shared with The Oxford Whisperer, Wolfson President Sir Tim Hitchens said that the rent reduction “is a strong example of the way in which constructive and respectful discussions can lead to a conclusion which all feel is sensible.”

Addressing the specific complaints, Wolfson College disputes that contractors have used residents’ toilets—except to dispose of tissues on two occasions. Wolfson College also stresses that the mold was treated with a fungicide before it was painted over. Even though it is still visible, it should not be harmful.

The college told The Oxford Whisperer that “any rare shortfalls in contractors’ behaviour have immediately been brought to the attention of the architects and contractors and corrective action has been taken.”

The Oxford Whisperer has verified claims in the open letter using the provided photos and videos. The communication with Wolfson College is attached for reference.

Update 5/12: After additional information from Wolfson College, we corrected the date by which the government grant has to be spent and added a statement about treated-yet-not-cleaned-but-painted-over mold.