Friday, 26 September 2014

Accommodation fiasco - Epigram editorial (27 September 2014)

My first editorial after becoming Editor of Epigram, Bristol University's Independent Student Newspaper.
Welcome to Bristol University! As you may have seen in our recent article, our university is ranked among the top 30 in the world. It is full of excellent lecturers and teaching staff. It sits in the middle of a vibrant, diverse city full of fun places to go and amazing views and sights.
But there’s another side to Bristol University. There is a growing disconnect between, on one side, university management and, on the other, most lecturers, students, and the Students’ Union. In other words, the University appears not to listen enough. Or, if and when it does, it doesn’t place enough importance on the needs of students and academic staff.
Regrettably, not nearly enough is done to increase capacity in line with growing student numbers. Whether it be study space or living space. The epitome of this is our latest report on accommodation shortages.
The fact that it took merely a minute to scan through Epigram archives to find a front page where 150 students were left without accommodation shows how long the University has had to fix the issue and how little has been done.

More recently, we’ve had Hiatt Baker residents forced to put up with massive disruption, and the redevelopment still isn’t complete, even if the rooms themselves are now ready.
The situation appears to be worsening, with the University joining the clearing process this summer. That’s not to say that the University shouldn’t have taken students through it, but it should have ensured sufficient accommodation provision before doing so.
Too often senior management appear too focused on profits and on taking as many students with their annual £9000 fees in without considering students already here who will graduate before work developing the former Habitat building is anywhere near completion.
Worryingly, the University appears to be reliant on students dropping out as a result of mental health problems or other issues to mitigate the accommodation mess which has seen many forced to share rooms and wardrobes.
The fact that the fate of the group of students waiting for their own room depends on another factor which doesn’t exactly reflect well on the University is hardly reassuring.
When tuition fees were introduced in the first place, students were told that they would lead to higher standards, even before the rate reached today’s sky-high levels which deter many from low-income families from applying – many of which would otherwise be here about to start first year.
There is an ongoing debate about whether higher standards have followed in academic affairs. Many lecturers and trade unions make a persuasive case that it has not, with savage cuts to teaching budgets stalling progress.
When it comes to accommodation, there is little doubt that this has not happened. Students have rightly been expecting more, but their needs are being catered for less and less.
As well as highlighting a need for more accommodation, this latest shambles underlines how important it is to have independent student media always willing to listen to the student voice.
In addition to being the main outlet for news and debate, Epigram is a platform to celebrate and showcase your skills and creativity, whatever they may be.
There has occasionally been a perception in the past that Epigram is a closed shop or that you need to have had years of journalism experience to write for us. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
While we have a strong team of section editors and sub-editors who have worked incredibly hard to put the first edition together in time for Freshers’ Fair, Epigram is all about our writers. And that means you!
Drop me an email, contact the editor of the section(s) that you’re interested in writing for or just turn up to section meetings, where stories get handed out and article ideas can be put forward. Getting involved was one of the best decisions I’ve made during my time at university, and I urge you to do the same.
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