The rate of infection of COVID-19 is continually rising in Bristol. 1,618 students and 40 members of staff have so far tested positive. In response and to prevent a further spread of the virus, students have been forced to abide by certain regulations set by the University of Bristol. So what is it really like to be a student in Bristol right now? Read on if you want to know the tea.
Using online resources has quickly become a solution for Universities across the UK to continue teaching its students. And for the University of Bristol, it’s no different. At the start of the academic year, the University outlined that all lectures have been moved online, with some ‘face-to-face’ seminars. However, despite being assured of this, some students have felt deceived and disappointed by the University’s choice of phrasing. Students soon found out that seminars on zoom call constituted for this face-to-face teaching. Therefore, some students have only been scheduled for around three hours of actual in-person teaching for the whole term! On those rare occasions when you have in-person teaching, students have to stick to social distancing measures and wear both a mask and visor in classrooms.
So how is the online teaching? Although it certainly depends on your lecturer, the University has attempted to make the work more engaging (and this is coming from a third-year student). Rather than continuing with the policy of having an hour-long lecture and seminar each week, lecturers have been encouraged to record a shorter lecture and set a number of short activities for students to complete before or during the seminars. This new strategy certainly makes constantly sitting in front of a computer more manageable and means you do not lose your concentration so easily. Having all the material online also means that you can work flexibly according to your own schedule – so you no longer have to worry about making that 9 am whilst having a hangover.
Of course, with the greater reliance on technology, there also comes greater instances of technological blips which can be disruptive to your learning. Having conducted seminars via Zoom and other platforms, I have encountered all sorts of problems. Most commonly, connectivity issues both from my end or someone else’s making it harder to have discussions without someone cutting out or being too quiet.
Access to study facilities
Currently, if students want to access a study space, they have to pre-book a slot. All spaces abide by social distancing rules, and students must conduct the NHS Track and Trace check-ins as well as wearing a mask whilst they are sitting at their desk. The libraries previously with 24 hour opening times have also shortened their working hours. As a result of these new restrictions, students have become frustrated with the lack of adequate access to study facilities. For the past month, students have only been allowed to claim four hours to spend studying in these spaces per week. As a result of this uproar, the University is currently considering extending this to an eight-hour limit (subject to a trial run).
The social life and fines
Social life is a big part of the university experience students look forward to. Yet, it is no surprise that this is going to operate a bit differently this year. Social interaction has been just as strange in Bristol with venues such as clubs being unable to operate as they did previously. Societies have also had to cancel or move much of their activities online to make themselves COVID safe.
However, some students have been found to break the rules. The University has been conducting patrols and issuing fines to its students. Since the beginning of October, 67 students have been fined, amounting to over £6,000.
Isolating and student protests
For the many students having to isolate for being in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, isolation can either be a tolerable or grim time – particularly if you are a fresher in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people. At Bristol, the Courtrooms – one of the first year accommodations – have been put into lockdown. Students living there have complained about being confined to their small rooms with no opportunity to exercise or get fresh air. These conditions have raised serious concerns about the mental health of Bristol’s students. Additionally, despite the University providing some students with free food parcels, some have expressed that they are insufficient and also do not contain essential non-edible items.
As a result, the campaign group ‘Bristol, Cut The Rent’ has emerged. Over a thousand students have signed to express their grievances at the University’s treatment of isolating students and the almost entirely online teaching. The protest is also demanding that the University let students go home and cancel their rental contracts without being penalised and to offer a 30% reduction in rent for the rest of the year for those who choose to stay.
COVID-19 has certainly made the typical university experience – both educational and social – extremely different and more difficult. Students at Bristol are feeling uncertain, but as a community, we are determined to support each other and get through these unprecedented times.