Joseph Marshall, Deputy Editor
Academics at the University of Bristol have called for their teaching award nominations to be rescinded following the University’s latest actions in its handling of student rent strikers.
Epigram earlier this week reported the University’s decision to bring in private debt collectors to retrieve the money withheld by student rent strikers.
In the latest development, some nominees for prizes at this year’s Bristol Teaching Awards have taken to social media to request that the University ‘de-nominate’ them in protest against the University’s actions.
Congratulations to all our Bristol Teaching Awards #btas2020 nominees! We received nearly 1000 nominations☺️ demonstrating the innovative, inspiring & supportive contributions staff have made this year. View noms on the Thanks & Recognition wall https://t.co/Wz9Wzh9E4P— Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching (@BILTOnline) May 7, 2021
Addressing Bristol University and its Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education, Professor Tansy Jessop on Twitter, Professor Gary Foster, who was nominated for the Inspiring and Innovative Teaching Award for his work at the School of Biological Sciences, aired his disappointment with the University’s decision.
Taking to Twitter Professor Foster stated ‘Please now withdraw my nomination for this amazing award. As it was nominated by my students who are now being persuaded(sic) by debt collectors I no longer want this nomination.’
No idea how to do this. I’m mischievous but not rebellious. But~Dear @BristolUni @BILTOnline @TansyJtweets please now withdraw my nomination for this amazing award. As it was nominated by my students who are now being persuaded by debt collectors I no longer want this nomination https://t.co/yln8tVoyJt— GaryFoster (@Prof_GD_Foster) May 11, 2021
Dr Catherine Dodds, a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, soon joined him and other colleagues in seeking to withdraw their nominations.
I've joined with colleagues to reject my nomination for these awards, in protest against the university's treatment of #rentstike students who now have bailiffs after them. I'll be forever grateful to the students who nominated me, though. https://t.co/1ap4kOTd5g— Catherine Dodds 💙 (@dr_c_dodds) May 12, 2021
After my delight this week of my one and only nomination, under the circumstances I have to agree with @Prof_GD_Foster and ask to be de-nominated. I remain honoured to be in this gang but not happy about my former employer sending in the bailiffs https://t.co/KYzJYGB2pN— Angela Piccini (@AAPiccini) May 11, 2021
Just in case it was not evident from the tweet, I'll be joining @Prof_GD_Foster @dr_c_dodds and others in rejecting any @BILTOnline awards... despite being brought to tears by my nomination last week.— Rich Pancost #BlackLivesMatter 🏞️ (@rpancost) May 12, 2021
With a very heavy heart, I have also withdrawn my nominations for the @BILTOnline University Teaching Awards in light of this decision by @BristolUni. Students are not the cause of any crisis. If required, bailout should be sought from the Government, who are. @TansyJtweets https://t.co/wgFE0J8hwp— Saffron Karlsen 💙 (@saffronkarlsen) May 14, 2021
Bristol University is reportedly the first university to pursue private debt collection in response to rent-striking students, and since last week has drawn condemnation online for its decision to bring in private debt collectors.
Rent Strike Bristol has responded to academics expressing their views on Twitter, stating ‘we greatly appreciate this act of solidarity with our rent strike. Students and staff... must stand united against marketised education if we are to transform our HE institutions.’
We greatly appreciate this act of solidarity with our rent strike ✊— Rent Strike Bristol (@RentStrikeBris) May 11, 2021
Students and staff (from lecturers, to cleaners, to support staff, etc) must stand united against marketised education if we are to transform our HE institutions https://t.co/o5aDgRZ9ZI
Robert Kerse, Chief Operating Officer for the University of Bristol, said: ‘We do not make a surplus from student rent and all accommodation fees are used for operating, maintaining and improving our halls of residence. This includes 24/7 pastoral and wellbeing support.
‘Recognising the impact the pandemic has had, we have offered students rebates which are the equivalent of a 25% reduction in rent over the duration of their tenancy and the option of tenancy release for those not wishing to reside in their University-accommodation any longer. We believe this to be one of the most significant rent offers across the university sector.
‘The overall package of additional Covid-related support for students in halls up to the end of March will total over £16.5million.
‘Multiple contacts have been made with students who have not paid, primarily to extend support at this very difficult time.
‘The latest letter tells them that the debt may be passed to a company, as is standard procedure once we have exhausted our own income collection processes, which have been extended by 3 months this year. We have pre-agreed that no debt will be sent to an outside collection organisation until June 10 at the earliest.
‘We have regularly reminded students what support is available and have encouraged them to get in touch if they’re having any financial difficulties.
‘Our hardship funds are uncapped and available to all students, regardless of landlord, during this challenging period.
‘We know that this has been a difficult year for students and their wellbeing remains our top priority. Our mental health and financial services are on hand to support all students – and we continue to urge anyone in need to get in touch as soon as possible.
‘We are continuing discussions with the rent strikers and will be meeting with them this Friday.’
Featured Image: Epigram
What do you think of the University's handling of student rent strikers?