From the Principal, Dr Damian Powell
I write in regard to the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The College continues to adjust to the emerging situation as the nation and the world responds. Student and staff morale has been consistently positive as we make the necessary adjustments, and we will respond appropriately as the situation continues to evolve.
Since the first news reached us of COVID-19, the safety of students and staff has been paramount. As the situation has evolved and medical advice has progressed, the College has taken steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of students through physical alterations to the Dining Hall, Junior Common Room and other common spaces to promote physical distancing. We have also been mindful of the need to check in on the wellbeing of students who are in a world which is not of their making and is challenging in the extreme. The concern of students for each other, for staff members, and for family and friends has been one of the most heartening aspects of the College response. Being small gives us easy lines of communication and dialogue, and everyone is working together, in the JCH way, to support each other.
From the College’s point of view, it is our clear intention to remain open and support the students in our care. Given the mixture of international, interstate, and rural and regional students in residence, the factors at play in terms of whether to remain or return home vary enormously. In such a situation, there is no 'one size fits all' in terms of what is best for students, or parents, and the best outcome may well change over time. It may be best for one student to return home due to a pre-existing health condition. It may be best for another student to stay in College throughout the year due to constraints on their housing or domestic situation. Some students will wish to go home but will be unable to do so. Others will wish to stay but need to leave the College for an indefinite period.
Throughout the emergence of the pandemic the College has given careful consideration to all recommendations coming from the University and State and Federal bodies, and also to Health Department guidelines. We have engaged as appropriate with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and health professionals in tailoring our response to the virus. On the basis of this advice, it is the determination of the College that, unless we are instructed to close by the Health Department, we will stay open throughout the year (including during the mid-year vacation) for any and all students who need or wish to stay in residence over this period. For those who have returned home, we will be offering ongoing online support, including mentoring, tutorials, and pastoral care to enable those students not physically present in the College to feel connected and supported.
In such a complex and dynamic situation, the College Council has agreed that, although fees are levied for the academic year, it will draw down upon limited College reserves to cover, in full, the third tranche of fees for 2020. If before or after this time the College is closed through Government directive, we will consider other arrangements to ensure equity to all students, while ensuring their safety and wellbeing as our highest priority.
The Council has further agreed that no fee increase will occur in 2021, to allow for some financial certainty for those families considering their situation for the following year. Any increases in costs will be funded, for 2021, by drawing further upon College reserves. The hope is that, for our older students and those who have started with us but had such a disrupted year, the College will be back to normal in 2021 offering the full suite of academic, cultural, pastoral, social and intellectual life which we associate with the normal rhythm of College life.
Janet Clarke Hall is committed to supporting students whose financial circumstances may have been severely affected due to the impact of COVID-19. We are deeply aware that many of our students have lost casual income vital to the payment of College fees. Many families will be struggling with the financial downturn brought about by COVID-19 and the interruption of business. All College staff, including our resident tutors, have volunteered to donate a portion of their wages towards a fund to allow extra resources to be extended to students in financial distress. We will continue to endeavour to ensure that we look after all our students regardless of financial circumstances.
For parents, guardians, staff and students, as for people world-wide, COVID-19 has presented and will continue to present unprecedented challenges. There will be more challenges to come. But just as Janet Clarke Hall survived previous times of crisis, including the disruption of the Great War and the influenza pandemic which followed, we will pull together and get through this. In this, we are deeply grateful for the interest and support given to the College in these difficult times.
Dr Damian Powell
7 April 2020