Several university students inside Education City in Qatar have reported being temporarily locked out of their dorm rooms after failing to pay their housing fees for the semester.
The students, who attend various schools that partner with Hamad Bin Khalifa University, had been warned weeks in advance about the lockout.
But some said they had been unable to pay the fees, which range from QR8,000 to QR10,000 per semester, because they couldn’t afford it.
While HBKU, which falls under Qatar Foundation (QF), has always required that housing costs be paid at the beginning of the semester, enforcement of this policy was previously less strict.
According to one Georgetown University in Qatar student who was locked out yesterday:
“There has always been a soft deadline there but not really enforced. Since most of the students who live in the residence halls are international students, we always cleared our fees by the end of the semester or before we left for vacation…
Some of these students are supporting themselves and probably will not be able to come up with the fees (overnight).”
A Northwestern University in Qatar student said she also experienced a similar situation yesterday when, despite being on a pre-determined payment plan, she found herself unable to access her room:
“If you have a monthly plan, you’re meant to have a balance…as you’re paying the fees over the course of the semester, but we were all locked out. It seems like it was done (indiscriminately),” she said.
In a statement to Doha News, an HBKU spokesperson confirmed the temporary lockout, adding:
“This semester, a number of students did not comply with the deadline for payment of housing fees. On March 4th, after a series of payment due reminders were sent to each individual, a temporary room restriction was put in place to prompt students to speak with HBKU Housing and Residential Life representatives to arrange for payment of these outstanding fees.
It is important that students take responsibility for fulfilling their financial obligations and for meeting the specified deadlines. HBKU Housing and Residential Life is committed to working with students to settle any outstanding issues to resolve this situation quickly.”
Questions about how many students were affected by the lockout and whether it would happen again were not answered.
Many students are currently on spring break, and won’t return to campus until next week.
In January, students were sent an email by HBKU Housing reminding them of overdue payments. They were told that failure to clear their accounts by Feb. 19 would result in the deactivation of their room cards.
The deadline was then moved to yesterday, after sending two further notices to students who still had outstanding payments.
“For students who are staying in Qatar during spring break, all outstanding payments must be completed by March 4, 2015…for students who want to travel outside Qatar and require an exit permit, they must go to QF Finance to pay their outstanding balance and provide receipt to HBKU Housing before March 4, 2015,” read the email.
Yesterday, when the deadline passed, a final reminder was set to students informing them that their keys had been deactivated.
But students were allowed access to their rooms after they visited QF’s finance department after they collected their overdue invoices and made arrangements to pay their dues shortly.
HBKU’s move to ensure on-time housing payments comes during a period of belt-tightening for EC universities, most of whom have had their budgets slashed by QF.
Students have reported feeling the pinch elsewhere over the past several months, especially in the area of paid part-time work.
Funding for most jobs filled by students, including ones at the student center, inside residence halls and within EC’s various universities, is provided by the HBKU Career Services Center, according to NU-Q student publication The Daily Q.
The center, which has in the past provided work opportunities for students as receptionists, teaching assistants, dorm fellows, and research assistants, saw its budget cut by some 50 percent last October, resulting in a hiring freeze and reduced working hours and salaries for students who already had jobs.
“HBKU, a division under QF located within the EC campus, was affected by what appears to be a larger effort by QF to reexamine its own budget,” Adam Al-Saadi, director of the HBKU career development center, said at the time.
A few months later, universities sent out emails notifying students that employment dates had changed. One stated:
“We have been informed that due to QF budget constraints, the fall semester employment end date has been changed to Nov. 30… Students will be removed from their positions and will not be compensated for additional work after this date.
Recently, citing budget cuts, HBKU notified universities that it would no longer support student jobs at the various branch campuses.
The new policy comes into effect May 1, and has already prompted some schools, including NU-Q and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, to rework their internal budgets to continue to support students. In an email to students last month, NU-Q said:
“While we are also feeling pressure from HBKU on our budget, we plan to continue employing students using our internal budget to minimize the impact on students whose work provides valuable support to our operations. We hope to keep this at the same level as this academic year and without some of the restrictions recently imposed by HBKU.”