By Billy Stockwell, Climate Correspondent
Bristol People and Planet Society have sent an open letter to the University of Bristol's Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady, demanding that the University provides more financial support to international students.
Amongst their 5 demands, the Society is calling for the University to reverse plans to increase international students’ fees by up to £2,000 for the next academic year.
Tuition fees for international students have already increased by £1000 over the last year, according to the letter.
Domi Rybova, President of Bristol People and Planet Society, told Epigram that ‘the University has shown recognition for the fact that many students have struggled financially over the course of the pandemic.
‘And yet, the decision to hike up international students’ fees shows a total disregard for this.
‘It is worth noting that not all Universities are taking this decision.
‘International students are not cash cows and the University must stop using them as such.’
For those students unable to cover their fees due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Society is demanding a ‘tuition fee amnesty’.
This is a demand that many students across the UK are proposing, supported by a letter delivered last year to Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, which was backed by 530 signatories.
Additionally, the Society is demanding that the University provide a permanent hardship fund that is flexible and accessible to all students.
The University already have an International Hardship Fund and a COVID-19 Impact Fund for students who require extra financial support.
However, many international students reported that they have been ‘discouraged’ from applying for this assistance, according to a survey conducted by Bristol People and Planet Society.
Further, when funds take the form of a loan, students have expressed feeling ‘extremely hesitant’ to apply, due to concerns that they would face greater financial strain in the future.
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This letter follows a nation-wide fundraising effort by People & Planet members to raise money for their local food banks, following reports that many international students were resorting to food banks during the COVID-19 crisis.
It cites a report by the Migrants’ Rights Network and Unis Resist Border Controls that revealed that 56% of international students were destitute or facing destitution due to COVID-19.
According to the open letter, some private-renting international students have not been receiving the same food packages and well-being services offered to those living in halls.
‘We’re fundraising because we think nobody should have to go hungry while pursuing an education' the letter reads.
Whilst the Society acknowledges that the University of Bristol's ‘support’ for migrant students has been better than many other Universities, they do suggest that 'more direct action' could be taken by the Society if their demands are not taken seriously.
Four Bristol SU Officers have backed the open letter, including David Ion (Undergraduate Education Officer), Ruth Day (Student Living Officer), Rushab Shah (Sport & Student Development Officer) and Roy Kiruri (International Students’ Officer).
In a previous statement commenting on the experience of students this year, Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience, said: ‘Despite the challenging circumstances, we remain committed to delivering the same high-quality learning outcomes for our students this year. Our staff have worked intensively to adapt their teaching to incorporate online provision, and to provide students with a high-quality learning experience.
‘The University has invested considerably in its response to the pandemic. This includes transforming our digital capacity and making campus Covid-secure to keep students and staff. We have also introduced a Coronavirus Impact Fund to support students who are experiencing financial hardship as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘We encourage students who are having difficulty continuing with their learning, perhaps because of illness, caring responsibilities or lack of access to IT, to make this known to the University using our existing extenuating circumstances process.
‘For all these reasons, we do not plan to offer blanket tuition fee refunds. However, in line with the guidance given to students by the Office for Students, we will continue to consider students’ concerns on a case-by-case basis through our established procedures. We will also be working closely with our Student Union, Universities UK and the Russell Group to ensure our students’ views are clearly communicated to the government.’
You can read the People and Planet Society's full letter here.
Featured image: Epigram / Cameron Scheijde
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