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University of Bristol plans to deduct bursary money from those on rent strike

The University of Bristol have said they will use student’s bursaries to ‘offset’ any missed rent payments from those involved in the ongoing strike.

By Teddy Coward, Co-Editor in Chief and Emilie Robinson, Digital News Editor

The University of Bristol have said they will use student’s bursaries to ‘offset’ any missed rent payments from those involved in the ongoing strike.

In an email addressed to first years, the University’s Student Funding Office have said money will be deducted from ‘some, or all’ of student’s bursaries to pay for any rent owed by 26 November.

The notice came just a day before a meeting among the University’s Board of Trustees is due to take place, in which the demands of the rent strikers are to be discussed.

Oliver Bullbrook, a first year student and one of the organisers of the rent strike, told Epigram the move ‘felt like a kick in the teeth’.

‘We’ve had all these weeks and months now of saying the University really has to support us, it really has to show that it want to fulfill its duty of care. And it responds by taking away that safety net by the students who really needed it.’

‘It did really feel like we’ve been talking to a brick wall for these last few months and they’ve just not realised the extent of what us students are going through.’

Alice Clarke, meanwhile, a student who is both on strike and uses a bursary, has said: ‘It feels very targeted, because they’ve not taken £400 out of the accounts of anyone who’s striking because they’re on a bursary. However, if you’re on a bursary, you now have that money taken away from you.’

‘I’m lucky enough that I will be fine. But the bit that makes me more angry is that so many people, they need it to pay for their food every week. I’ll just have to go into my overdraft because I factored it in.

Currently, there are believed to be around 1,200 holding over £1 million worth of rent from the University, in response to their handling of the coronavirus.

The Cut the rent campaign demands include a 30% cut of the rent for the whole year for students staying in halls, no-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for those that move out.

The University’s proposal to deduct rent from the bursary money has been described as ‘shameful’ by the strike organisers, Bristol, Cut the Rent.

Bristol SU Living Officer, Ruth Day, meanwhile, has said ‘a University which prides itself on supporting WP students should not take away something which could be a student’s financial lifeline,’ and that they intend to meet ‘with the University tomorrow on this and set this right.’

Bursaries are provided by the University for students whose household income is below a certain threshold and are described on the University website as ‘not a loan: it is a gift from the University that does not have to be repaid.’

A spokesperson for the University of Bristol has said: ‘We fully acknowledge how stressful and challenging the current situation is, both for our students and everyone who is being impacted by the pandemic.

‘Bursaries are provided by the University to help ​students cover expenditure such as rent. The terms and conditions of bursaries clearly state that if a student owes the University money then the bursary will be used to pay any debt that is owed.

‘This is the case every year and applies to all students who have outstanding debt. In addition to paying the bursary to students, we have communicated details of our Financial Assistance Fund which is also available for students who are experiencing financial difficulties.

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‘We have had regular discussions with Bristol Cut the Rent and the Students’ Union, during which we have been clear that students must comply with the tenancy agreements they have signed.

‘We have always pledged to act reasonably, reviewing our position as the national picture with Covid-19 changes. Although students are facing some necessary restrictions to safeguard their health and the health of others, we have been as flexible as possible and believe we’ve gone above and beyond to provide support.

‘We are providing a 10 day rent rebate for students living in University accommodation in response to the Government’s directive for teaching to be moved online between 3 and 9 December, allowing time for students to travel home safely should they wish to. This mirrors the rent rebate we offered in the summer term, when teaching was moved online during the first national lockdown.

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‘It is costing significantly more to operate our halls this year, due to later arrival dates, increased security and the additional support offered to students who are self-isolating, who we are providing with cleaning supplies, laundry services and free food boxes.

‘We do not make a profit from student rent and all accommodation fees are used for operating, maintaining, and improving the residences. This includes 24/7 pastoral and wellbeing support.’

Featured Image: Epigram / Teddy Coward

What do you think about the planned decision to take bursary money from rent strikers?