Opinion | The university should teach, not police, students


By Hugo Cartwright, Second Year, History

A few weeks ago, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said to the Commons 'I do not believe we should look to inflict stricter measures on students… there must be a parity'.

Yet, it seems that Mr. Hugh Brady has woken up on the wrong side of the bed as he's certainly seen it fit to inflict a reign of terror on those same students he's charged to lead.

You see, the University has instituted a wide-reaching policy of fines and security against their own students. Got caught up in the enjoyment of first year and perhaps spent the night at a friend's? That'll be £800, please.

The law doesn't, and shouldn't, prohibit the mixing of households at this time in Bristol, and yet it seems as though the University reaps a certain level of enjoyment from crushing the social lives of its students.

Imagine this dear reader, a tale of two students. One, the first of their family to go to University, was on free school meals and takes the maximum maintenance loan; the other, comfortable, doesn't really need a loan and quite frankly could probably take a fine or two and not be in financial ruin.

One of those infamous, clandestine block parties is taking place. Now, think back to the two individuals in question. One can undoubtedly afford to take the chance of going to the party: maybe they will get a fine maybe they won't, it's no biggie.

The University's fine system is a black box shrouded in complete mystery

Now a sad tale of social segregation begins anew. The other student simply can't take the risk of paying £800 for a potential one-night stand, or even just going to a friend’s for that post-footie meet up. It just isn't quite worth the risk.

Oh well, I guess it's another night of mundane Zoom meetings with a water and tonic to help cover up this sad attempt at recreating a life.

If students are found to have breached legislation by all means they should be referred to the proper and accountable authorities. But no-one expects to be policed by their own University, nor should they. The University's fine system is a black box shrouded in complete mystery.

We all deserve better than this

This broken and unacceptable system shouldn't be legal in the first place. Who is the University to leverage fines against its students? Don't we pay enough?

It's the job of the council and of the police to enforce rules for the simple fact of that's their job, that's what they're trained to do. We wouldn't allow a police constable to supervise a PhD thesis in theoretical chemistry, and we shouldn't allow the University to fine or control its students.

The University's platoon of Covid marshals, security services, and the continued Operation Beech comes at a high cost, and I don't merely mean the North of twenty thousand pounds price tag that comes along with these initiatives.

At the heart of it all, it signals a shift of University priority, from the provision of tertiary education and the enrichment of its students, to looking more and more like the new Blackwater incorporated.

Over the past 6 months the University has arguably often fallen short of its duty to deliver as a higher education institution – one needn’t look further than the absurd new four hours a week for library space rule (which is particularly hard-hitting as even pre-Covid Bristol was never blessed with abundant library space).

This isn't just about access to that lovely new reference book. It's the fact that many non-halls students simply don't have desks to work, or a real quiet space to study and the library is their only safe haven.

It's that many students don't have access to a computer or laptop all day round or a stable internet connection for those long study periods.

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The University appears to care very little about the position that all these individuals are being put in as a result of their poor planning.

So what does this all mean for us? An inferior experience that saw units cancelled for students at the 11th hour, a shambles of a Collaborate system, stringent measures against students, and I can't even begin to imagine how much extra work for lecturers who have had to quickly come to grips with the new blended system.

We all deserve better than this, and we're not going to get it until we make our voices heard.

Featured Image: Epigram / Imogen Horton

Do you think fines should be given to students that break social distancing rules?