International students residing at the University of Malta’s residence were advised to return to their home countries when the COVID-19 crisis struck the islands, but were told they will not receive a refund for the accommodation despite leaving.
Renting a bed at the residence in Lija for a full academic year costs students thousands of euro, but several of them have now been informed that they aren’t entitled to a refund.
Erasmus Student Network, a student organisation at the University of Malta, has collected complaints of hundred of students who were denied refunds and have been left in limbo.
A French student who paid for a full year of accommodation at €4,420 with a €350 refundable deposit had to take out a loan to be able to afford the rent. Although they received the deposit back, there is no sign that they will see the fees paid from April onwards, despite leaving in mid-March.
“Every time I asked, the university would make some excuses to not give me a refund, which is outrageous because it was not our fault that we had to go back to our home country but due to a special circumstance because of the pandemic.”
“It is really unfair to act like that; we are only students and we don’t have any revenue. In order to pay that residence I had to take a loan,” they said.
Another student from Canada, left around the same time after their home university requested their immediate return. They are owed three months of rent upward of €1,000.
“I’m truly shocked at how the University Residence is trying to scam its residents. They can’t get away with this. The management filled the residence with threatening signs everywhere telling students to go back to their home country before they get stuck in Malta.”
“I’m a student following the guidelines set by both the University of Malta and my home university, and the result is basically getting kicked out so they can keep my money without housing me. This is the most unprofessional experience I’ve had in my life. I’m not sure if I signed a contract with the Residence, or if it was the house rules.”
Because of the circumstances, a student from Ireland has been forced to pay for two accommodations.
“Now that I have been made to return to Ireland I have had to find new accommodation, meaning that at home in Ireland I am now paying bills for accommodation and still paying for the university residence although I am not there. I am paying for two accommodations and I simply cannot afford this.”
“I feel at least a partial refund for the months not living in the residence would be fair, as the residence was extremely overpriced for the quality of the facilities in the first place, they actively encouraged residents to leave, and none of their services are currently being used,” another student, a British national formerly residing at the residence said.
According to ESN, only two students have received a refund, whilst around 150 others have not.
An email seen by Lovin Malta shows that one of the two students, a Spanish national, had warned the residence’s manager that his father is a judge and had deemed his behaviour highly illegal.
“The situation arising from COVID-19 pandemic has originated an unprecedented world crisis in our recent history, that, from a contractual and legal perspective represents a clear ‘force majeure’ event that completely affects the interpretation and observance of contracts,” the student wrote.
“As you can imagine, I was forced to leave the residence due to this situation of ‘force majeure’, a situation that legitimises the termination of the contract without detriment of my rights, as the clause you mention in order to retain the deposit would lose its effects, and as a result the aforementioned cause would be void.”
“I consulted this case to my father, who is a judge of the Court, who considers my position completely justified and is fully in accordance with the law; a position that would be accepted in a hypothetical court claim I would be forced to initiate in case you do not accept my fair proposition.”
Another student, a Canadian national, received a full refund after her home embassy got involved and she managed to rent her room to someone else in her place.
ESN, together with the university’s student council KSU, have called for the reimbursement of any unused credit or the ability to transfer the credits to the next academic year should they decide to return after the situation settles.
“We are aware of the common clause in many agreements which provides for a non-refund policy, however, we hope this is reconsidered in light of such extraordinary circumstances. While the economic burden is significant on all parties, we believe that it should not be borne entirely by students,” they said.
“This issue affects many international students studying in Malta. We ask all parties who have not done so to take a humanitarian approach and consider the financial burden this places on students.”
Cover photo from: Malta University Residence