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Lecturers reject their teaching prize nominations in protest against Bristol University’s handling of rent strike

Academics at the University of Bristol have called for their teaching award nominations to be rescinded following the University’s latest actions in its handling of student rent strikers.

Joseph Marshall, Deputy Editor and Filiz Gurer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Academics at the University of Bristol have called for their teaching award nominations to be rescinded following the University’s latest actions in its handling of student rent strikers.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.

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.’

Dr Catherine Dodds, a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, soon joined him and other colleagues in seeking to withdraw their nominations.

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.’

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

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