Skip to content
News2023Bristol SU

UK Defence Secretary hits back at Bristol SU after army group banned from Welcome Fair

Grant Shapps branded the decision 'absurd and indefensible' but the SU argues it was protecting its affiliated groups.

Image courtesy of Roya Shahidi

By Will Standring, News Editor

Bristol SU has come under criticism from the UK’s Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, after they banned the army-affiliated Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) from setting up a stand at the Welcome Fair.

The Officer Training Corps is an Army Reserve unit made up of university students. Bristol University Officers’ Training Corps is affiliated with the university but, crucially, not the Student Union.

Bristol SU prevented the OTC from attending the event due to fears that it would compete with other affiliated organisations.

In a statement to Epigram, an SU spokesperson stated that ‘Bristol SU Welcome Fair is […] primarily an opportunity for our 350+ affiliated student groups to attract new student members.’

‘We assess requests made by unaffiliated groups on a case-by-case basis, considering a number of factors which have been communicated to the OTC, including that groups like the OTC offer an experience (such as making friends, developing leadership skills and adventure activities) which is very similar to, and therefore in direct competition with, our affiliated student groups.’

However, Shapps decried the decision as ‘absurd and indefensible’, arguing that the defence industry offers ‘graduates a chance to take on some of the most highly skilled jobs in the world.’

Shapps’ criticisms were echoed by fellow Conservative MP and one-time Party Leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

Ex-Army officer Duncan Smith told The Mail on Sunday that ‘‘it is a sad reflection of how these safe and cosseted young students forget so quickly who it is that safeguards their freedoms.’

‘It is our servicemen and women who - rejected by these students today - will save them tomorrow.’

21-year-old Bristol OTC member, Abby Blackwell, stated her objection to the decision in The Telegraph, saying:

‘The university is supposed to help us find fulfilling and lifelong careers, but by trying to ban the OTC they’re doing the opposite of that. They’re limiting potential career paths.’

‘Talented individuals who may have loved a career in the Army might not have one now.’

Bristol University has not joined the government in its criticism of the SU.

A spokesperson for Bristol University said: 'We respect our students’ right to raise concerns about issues they feel strongly about, and we will continue to listen to and engage with their views.'

What do you think about the SU's decision? Let us know!