[ENT] Coronavirus UK: Locked-down students at Bristol and Edinburgh protest campus restrictions

Furious students in Bristol and Edinburgh are demanding refunds for costly accommodation as they protest coronavirus restrictions imposed by university authorities.

Bristol University is enforcing lockdowns on two halls of residence after 725 students tested positive for Covid-19.

A group of students are organising a rent strike from October 24, in which they are encouraging as many others as possible to stop paying ‘until the university treats its students better’.

The activist group, called ‘Bristol, Cut the Rent’, claim students were ‘lured back to campus with the false promise of ‘Covid-safe’ teaching only to end up in lockdown’.

Meanwhile, students living at Pollock Halls of residence in Edinburgh said they have been slapped with ‘extremely expensive fines’, starting at £50, for breaching coronavirus rules.  

A petition signed by 300 students said the university is ‘bleeding students dry’ for ‘minor offences’ and blasted the mental health support provision.

Frustrated students, paying around £7,000 for the catered accommodation, said it was ‘grossly unfair’ they were being charged full price, given the restrictions in place.

In Bristol, the students are demanding no repercussions for rent strikers, no-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for students to move out of halls of residence, and a 30 per cent reduction for the whole year for those who stay in halls.

Bristol students are planning a rent strike in protest at their treatment by university authorities as they claim coronavirus restrictions prevent them from accessing many facilities (pictured, messages at a Bristol student accommodation where students are having to self-isolate)

The university has imposed lockdowns on two halls of residence after 725 students tested positive for Covid-19, according to the latest figures from the university. A group of students are organising a rent strike from October 24, in which they are encouraging as many others as possible to stop paying ‘until the university treats its students better’ (pictured, messages at a Bristol student accommodation where students are having to self-isolate)

The university has imposed lockdowns on two halls of residence after 725 students tested positive for Covid-19, according to the latest figures from the university. A group of students are organising a rent strike from October 24, in which they are encouraging as many others as possible to stop paying ‘until the university treats its students better’ (pictured, messages at a Bristol student accommodation where students are having to self-isolate)

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The activist group, called ‘Bristol, Cut the Rent’, claim students were ‘lured back to campus with the false promise of ‘Covid-safe’ teaching only to end up in lockdown’

The activist group, called ‘Bristol, Cut the Rent’, claim students were ‘lured back to campus with the false promise of ‘Covid-safe’ teaching only to end up in lockdown’ 

They also want full transparency on the powers, role and actions of security staff enforcing lockdowns in halls, outdoor access, fresh food boxes to be delivered to their flats, and regular mental-health check-ins with university authorities.

The Edinburgh petition states: ‘Many students in Pollock are facing extremely expensive fines, starting at £50, for minor offences and these punishments are accumulating at speed on people’s records. 

Cut the Rent! What the Bristol students want 

  • No repercussions for rent strikers;
  • No-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for students who move out of halls;
  • 30 per cent rent reduction for the whole year for those who stay in halls;
  • Outdoor access: they say students in lockdown should be granted at least one hour outside each day in accommodation courtyards and green spaces;
  • Fresh food boxes should be delivered to flats and they should cater for all dietary requirements;
  • Regular mental health check-ins twice a week with Resilife, the Residential Life Service at the university;
  • Full transparency on the powers, role and actions of security staff enforcing lockdowns in halls 

 

‘As a result, many students are on the verge of suspension within their first month.

‘It seems, due to the sheer volume of students facing serious penalties, these punishments do not reasonably suit their crimes and the institution is, once again, bleeding students dry of whatever money they can get from them.

‘We acknowledge that there must be restrictions and do not criticise these but more so the system of punishment that is used following the breaking of them.

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‘Charging full-price fees this year is grossly unfair and it appears that the University is profiting (from) the Covid-19 pandemic.’

The university has come under fire recently from students who described the accommodation as ‘prison like’.

First-year students living in the university’s catered accommodation claimed they are watched by staff as they eat alone at single desks at the cafeteria.

With the on-site bar closed, students must bring their own cutlery with them while hot food is dispersed by staff and cold food is individually packaged.

Liberty Phelan, a second-year student who lived in the halls last year, said: ‘Before the term began the university announced the changes and how things would be different.

‘Students were told that they would have to sit at tables by themselves but were offered a takeaway option.

‘Now they have taken the takeaway option away and I’ve been told that everyone is forced to eat alone and not allowed to get up from their allocated table for more food or water.’

The Bristol students have posted on Facebook: ‘Students have been lured back to campus with the false promise of ‘Covid-safe’ teaching only to end up in lockdown.

‘We can’t access the blended learning we were promised, nor all the halls facilities we are paying thousands for. Join us in withholding our rent until the university meets our demands.’

Their movement is being fully supported by the Bristol Student Union, with a spokesperson saying: ‘We are supporting the rent strike which has been called as we hear all the concerns that students are raising.

‘We’ll be supporting Cut the Rent by highlighting their demands to the university in the spaces that we are in, alongside the halls’ lockdown demands that we have already released.

‘We will also be helping Cut the Rent to communicate with students in halls.’

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In a statement, the University of Bristol said its actions are being ‘guided by Public Health England and the authorities to limit the spread of coronavirus’.

The University of Edinburgh said that its restrictions were ‘in line with Scottish Government guidance’.   

The activist group, called ‘Bristol, Cut the Rent’, claim students were ‘lured back to campus with the false promise of ‘Covid-safe’ teaching only to end up in lockdown’

The activist group, called ‘Bristol, Cut the Rent’, claim students were ‘lured back to campus with the false promise of ‘Covid-safe’ teaching only to end up in lockdown’ 

They are demanding no repercussions for rent strikers, no-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for students to move out of halls of residence, and a 30 per cent reduction for the whole year for those who stay in halls (pictured, accommodation last week)

They are demanding no repercussions for rent strikers, no-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for students to move out of halls of residence, and a 30 per cent reduction for the whole year for those who stay in halls (pictured, accommodation last week)

A Bristol University spokesperson said: ‘We fully acknowledge how stressful and challenging it is for students living in University accommodation having to self-isolate.

‘We thank them for following Government advice to keep themselves and the wider community safe and are doing everything possible to support them.

‘This includes providing cleaning supplies, laundry services and free food boxes with fresh goods which we understand some other universities are charging students for.

‘Security and support staff within residences are essential to remind students of the need to behave in a responsible and lawful manner.  

‘Self-isolating students have full access to wellbeing and mental health support services, and our blended learning provision has been created to ensure they can still continue with their studies online.

‘Students who aren’t having to self-isolate are still able to attend face-to-face learning and move around freely within Government guidelines.

‘The health and safety of our students is a top priority, and our Residential Life teams are available 24/7 to offer help and advice. 

‘Regular support and contact with students will ensure everyone is kept up-to-date and can ask any questions.

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‘We welcome further discussions with representatives from Cut the Rent and Bristol Students’ Union, but this is an issue that is affecting all universities at the moment and our actions are guided by Public Health England and the authorities to limit the spread of coronavirus.’ 

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: ‘Academic and support staff have been working throughout the summer to ensure our students continue to receive the world-class education that they expect from the University of Edinburgh.

‘Students are receiving a hybrid learning experience, in line with Scottish Government guidance, where some in-person teaching takes place on-campus where it is possible and safe to do so.

‘We are delivering more than 95,000 hours of teaching this semester and more than 35,000 hours of this is scheduled to be on campus.

‘Our libraries and other study facilities are open, and we have created new spaces for students to meet and interact during this challenging year.

Universities are drawing up plans for a mass student testing regime to get students home for Christmas in an attempt to avoid a two-week campus lockdown. Pictured: Mobile testing centre at Durham University where almost 1,000 students tested positive

Universities are drawing up plans for a mass student testing regime to get students home for Christmas in an attempt to avoid a two-week campus lockdown. Pictured: Mobile testing centre at Durham University where almost 1,000 students tested positive

‘What we intend to teach our students, the learning outcomes with which they will graduate, and fee arrangements remain unaltered.

‘For those students wishing to vacate University-provided accommodation early, we are waiving our normal 28 day notice period.

‘We know that this is a very challenging time for our students, which is why we are offering a range of support, including daily check-ins, pastoral care and a helpline.

‘We know that this is a year like no other, but we want to reassure our students that a degree from Edinburgh will be as valuable as it has been for more than 400 years.’ 

It comes amid reports that universities are drawing up plans for a mass student testing regime to get students home for Christmas in an attempt to avoid a two-week campus lockdown over the festive period.

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It is hoped that a testing blitz will help deliver the Prime Minister’s pledge to ‘get students home safely for Christmas’ but will stop the virus from spreading around the UK at the end of term.

The Government’s alternative proposal is to place students under a lockdown on campus for two weeks before the holidays with all teaching carried out online.

But this was met with opposition by vice-chancellors who branded the plans ‘non-sensical’.

‘The plan to keep students in their rooms for two weeks is nonsensical,’ one university leader told The Telegraph.

‘What if they go to a shop to buy a cheese sandwich? How will the shop know they are a student? Who will stop their mums and dad picking them up? You can’t discriminate against them. The solution is around testing.’

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 staff and students at Durham University have tested positive for coronavirus within one week.

A total of 958 students and six members of staff tested positive in the week leading up to October 14, after 222 students and members of staff tested positive for the virus the previous week.

This brings the total number of cases to 1,220 since the start of term, with 11 cases among staff and 1,209 among students — surpassing neighbouring Newcastle University which reported 749 new cases, bringing its total to 760.

The figures were released by Durham University as part of its weekly update on the number of cases that have been reported by students or staff through its own system.   

Read From Original Source Here: The State

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