West England Bylines was informed that Bristol University were threatening students with taking funds from their bursaries to cover unpaid rent.
The University sent an email to all students demanding rent arrears. The email said:
If the debt remains outstanding and overdue for payment on 26th November 2020, the University will use some or all of the December 2nd instalment of your bursary to offset any outstanding amounts.
The University authorities seem more interested in their balance sheet than the welfare and education of the students in their care.
Here is an extract from the students’ press release on 21 November 2020 after the U-turn.
On 20 November 2020, rent strikers forced the University to backtrack on its policy to take strikers’ bursaries to cover unpaid rent. After a media storm and a day of difficult conversations with the University, it recognised that the policy had gone too far.
Although we celebrate this victory, we cannot let the University forget how they are prepared to treat students. The withdrawal of bursaries from students to cover unpaid rent is still standard policy – it will happen again if it is not removed.
This fiasco shows how the University is narcissistically obsessed with its image about student wellbeing. The University hurriedly contacted media organisations to ensure that they were aware of the updated policy before evening stories were published, before they even told us – while students from disadvantaged backgrounds were still terrified about losing their bursaries. We only found out about the U-turn from ITV News, rather than the Uni itself. Consequently, unfortunately their apology about the uncertainty caused rings hollow.
In our initial letter to the Board of Trustees, we highlighted the ‘breakdown of trust’ as a key issue from the empty promises of face-to-face teaching and safe halls facilities, as well as the University’s untruthful media statements about the accessibility of food boxes, laundry services and mental health provision. Unfortunately, the latest development only perpetuates this breakdown of trust which necessitated the strike in the first place. We find out the outcome of the Board’s response to our demands on Monday and unless there is a serious change in outlook then this dispute will continue until we can restore that trust placed on the University.
Brandon Hamilton, 19, said:
“Coming from a not so wealthy background the bursary was such a nice opportunity for me to receive extra support, to buy extra essential items for uni and to take pressure off of my weekly food shop as I come over my budget every week just buying necessary food. The fact that that was going to be taken away from me by the uni to use it to pay the rent that we’re withholding for the already appalling circumstances we’ve been left in was a big strain on my mental health, made me feel like the university cared more about landlords and lining their pockets than the students and made me rethink whether I should be at university”
Josefina Nagler Gómez, 18, said:
“We are pleased that the University of Bristol has seen the error in its ways and made this u-turn. However an incredible breach in trust has already done its damage and we will not forget that our bursaries were threatened. The university has proved time and time again that they are more concerned by their image in the media, as shown by their u-turn press release being given to the media almost 30 minutes before it was released to those it actually would have affected, and by their bottom line. We will continue to push even harder for the implementation of the rest of our demands and we hope this u-turn is the first of many.”
Another student whose bursary was threatened but wishes to remain anonymous, 19, said that:
“University of Bristol threatening to use the bursary money to pay for rent sends the message that people who are in less financially privileged situations are not really afforded the opportunity to protest against what they believe to be wrong. A lot of us bursary students depend on that money and cannot afford to lose it. I am happy that they had the good sense to withdraw that threat.”
The education of our students is an investment in the future prosperity of our country. Universities have a duty of care towards their students. So universities should be educating and nurturing students and not harassing them for funds.
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