By Alice Clarke, Second Year, History
After weeks of progressive student backlash, the University have once again demonstrated the extent to which they are out of touch with the student body. The decision to withhold bursary payments from striking students encapsulates years of classist University policies, that have left students like myself feeling excluded and out of place.
Despite the subsequent U-turn, the fact that the University made a point of following such a policy in the first place, has resulted in the further breakdown of trust between them and striking students.
Their initial decision is reflective of Bristol’s grapple with inclusivity. As a striking student who receives the Bristol Bursary, I felt immense pressure when reading the email warning me my bursary would be withheld if I did not pay my outstanding fees.
Through taking our bursaries away, our autonomy is removed and our right to strike withheld. Such actions reduce those in receipt of bursaries to dependents, forcing students to comply with the University’s payment schedule or risk serious harm to their own wellbeing.
Bursary recipients have the right to control their own money. They have the right to strike if they feel it necessary. Knowing our bursaries were to be used to cover our rent without our consent undermines these rights.
Moreover, the Bristol Bursary is a means-tested scheme, automatically offered to students which the University deems most in need. Surely the University was not sacrificing these students’ needs for profit?
The bursary acts as an essential safety net for those students who struggle to make ends meet
Bursary recipients are not cannon fodder. Bursaries are a vital tool for many students, who are often surviving on a tight budget. Bristol is a city with higher-than-average rent costs and a minimal selection of affordable University accommodations. Consequently, the bursary acts as an essential safety net for those students who struggle to make ends meet.
Personally, my bursary is vital in helping me pay a costly deposit to secure a house for next year. For many, it supplements the extortionate cost of halls. Bristol’s own research notes how bursaries ‘allow those from less advantaged backgrounds to have the same opportunity to participate in university life as those from more traditional intakes’.
Widening participation students already feel alienated in Bristol
Does this opportunity to participate not include the right to strike? In their own words, bursaries offer a ‘cushion from unexpected and unplanned expenses’. This news certainly was unexpected. The research goes further, stating that such schemes ‘help to form a positive bond between the student and the institution’. If this is the case, it surprises me that the University is willing to sacrifice such a ‘bond’ with students. Indeed, the damage has already been done.
Widening participation students already feel alienated in Bristol. Though perhaps inadvertently, the University has made an example of and pressured this part of the student body even more.
The threat of additional financial pressures should not be used lightly. One would think the University would be increasingly aware of this issue following the heightened scrutiny of Bristol's reputation as an exclusive University. Clearly this is not the case.
Though this does little to make up for the breach of trust, the University now appears to have taken the outrage felt by many on board and will continue to award bursaries.
Despite this, it is important to note that the strikers won’t be intimidated into backing down. Certainly not for the University to make quick money, prolonging their ability to resist the demands of the strike.
I have full admiration of the resilience of striking students, especially those who felt the pressure having their bursaries used against their will. It is time the University awarded those students the same respect.
Featured Image: Epigram / Teddy Coward
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