Monday, 9 February 2015

Are Bristol students really 'winners'? Epigram editorial (9 February 2015)

A recent Times article (03/02/14) about tuition fees referred to Bristol University as among the list of ‘winners’ since the lifting of the cap on student numbers. Many students will be asking how we can possibly consider ourselves 'winners' from an unsustainable expansion, which has seen student-staff ratios rocketing and undergraduates sharing bunk beds.

It was Bristol’s ranking at the top of the list of universities’ increases in student numbers, ahead of UCL, Exeter and the LSE, with a whopping 40 per cent increase (1475 students) since 2011 that highlighted our apparent ‘success’. Since 2011, the University has continued to grow.
But are we really ‘winners’, when we have a Vice-Chancellor who lobbies against reducing fees below £9000? Someone who now claims to be concerned about living costs, but just three years ago tried to get rid of bursaries and replace them with fee waivers.
Are we ‘winners’ when many of our hard-working lecturers and administrative staff members face threats to have pay docked for engaging in marking boycotts and are expected to mark more work for less, as student numbers rise?
Are we ‘winners’ when we have to pay significant extra costs on top of the sky-high tuition fees and living costs in a city like Bristol?
It’s not all doom and gloom. The University has responded to some concerns. Epigram welcomes the University’s first public forum for Arts & Social Sciences, where students were free to raise issues. We welcome the creation of the ‘task force’ itself. We worry, however, that the lack of publicity meant that only a small fraction of concerned students were able to attend, and that, at time of writing, there remains no sign of another such event being organised.
However, whilst we acknowledge that action is being taken to increase problems study spaces, a number of which are now available in the Students’ Union, we believe that the University is not responding sufficiently to issues raised by student representatives (from course rep level up to sabbatical officers) surrounding extra costs, class sizes and accommodation shortages.
Does any Bristol student seriously feel like a ‘winner’ right now? Someone out there thinks that you are. Hopefully just a journalist from The Times’ sub-editing desk, under a tight deadline and not having the time to think through the implications of the use of such a word. Or could it be that, despite the students protesting outside Wills Memorial Building, despite National Student Survey satisfaction scores falling; someone in the University seriously believes that because of the expansion, we are all ‘winners’ here? Just remember that possibility next time you struggle to find a seat in your overcrowded seminar or fork out for ‘required readings’.
Forgive the footballing analogies, but while they say it’s only a game, the academic experience of staff and students alike is so much more than that. Yet here I find myself losing with 15 minutes (relative to my degree length) of my undergraduate life remaining.

There’s still time to get something out of this match, for the University to salvage its reputation among current students and show that it is taking action across areas of concern. But if chances aren’t taken, if the manager doesn’t make some changes, then we’re going to lose.
Oh well. I’m a Charlton fan. I’m used to losing.

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