By Megan Evans, News Subeditor
University of Bristol statistics show that significant numbers of Bristol students are living in their accommodation in Bristol during the current lockdown.
The University contacted all students in January to ascertain where they were currently living. As of the 18th of February, 18,908 students had responded to declare their addresses.
Nearly 12,000 Bristol students - 63 per cent of those who responded - have reported being back in Bristol, with 2,500 students saying that they are living in halls and 9,462 currently in private accommodation.
Students: If you’re not currently in residence and are unable to return to University-owned accommodation you will not be charged rent for the period 1 February – 26 March, providing your course has not resumed blended learning.— Bristol University 🎓 (@BristolUni) January 12, 2021
More details >> https://t.co/KJ2HH19mVF pic.twitter.com/pCZmr67Lmg
6,946 students said that they are not currently living in Bristol.
When the government announced a third national lockdown on 4 January, as a result of a spike in cases of COVID-19, students were actively discouraged from returning to term-time residences, with the exception of a few courses.
Targeted advertising from the Government, on social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok, has been addressing students directly, warning them not to move back to university.
‘Students: Your universities will tell you when to return,’ it reads, with the hashtag #UniSafe.
A university-wide email on 7 January from Bristol University's Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Experience, Professor Sarah Purdy, urged students to ‘stay at home where you can.’
The University of Bristol Press Office noted last Thursday that ‘students will be in the city if they are studying medicine, dentistry or any of the other practical courses the Government has already identified, for specific reasons that are personal to them or if their residence in Bristol is their primary accommodation.
‘In addition, some students never left Bristol for the Christmas break. For example, international students who were unable to travel or students who felt it was safer for them to stay here rather than travel home.’
Speaking to students, Epigram found that there were many reasons for their decisions to return to Bristol, including for better mental health, employment opportunities, academic and social reasons, and to occupy accommodation for which they are paying rent.
One second-year medic explained that she chose to return to Bristol to live with friends, even though her course had been moved online, as she was still classed by the government as being permitted to travel.
A second-year Zoology student disclosed that her incentive to travel to Bristol mid-lockdown was to see her partner and friends, having a more social living bubble at university than at home.
She explained her complex feelings upon returning: ‘I did feel like I was breaking lockdown rules – I believe I technically did – but I wasn’t worried about facing repercussions as the move significantly benefited my mental health, which the university already knows I suffer with.’
The sense of a legal and moral ‘grey area,’ as one Languages student described, appears to be shared by many returning students.
This student explained that, provided social distancing guides were followed, ‘all students should have a right to choose where they permanently live.
‘I felt like I was within my right to be coming back to live [...] in a house I pay rent for.’
An Economics student cited different reasons for returning: ‘I need a job, and it would be more practical to find one in Bristol as we may be asked to return to university soon anyway.’
67 Bristol City Council councillors and council candidates have written an open letter to landlords and letting agencies about the situation facing student tenants under the current lockdown.— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) February 11, 2021
You can read it here >> https://t.co/Mj3xjMvD8Q
Also prevalent amongst the students who spoke to Epigram was the wish to live independently, with friends rather than family, as well as the need to return for better studying environments.
With close to 7,000 students remaining outside of Bristol however, a large proportion of students have chosen to stay at home with their families, even whilst paying rent on their accommodation in Bristol.
One second year student told Epigram that they had decided to remain at home after the Christmas holidays, because of the national lockdown, noting that they ‘did not need to be in Bristol,’ as their course had gone entirely online.
Another student said that they had followed government and university guidance to stay at home, commenting that they ‘found it harder to study at home,’ and were keen to return to Bristol once the guidance changes.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to make a significant address later today to the nation, with the Government due to publish its plan on the easing of lockdown measures.
The announcement is expected to include updated guidance for universities, and there has been speculation over a potential gradual return to campus from 8 March.
Featured image: Epigram / Imogen Horton
Have you returned to Bristol or are you at home? Let us know.