Epigram Editorial: 2015

Term is winding down and the festive celebrations are well and truly beginning. The featured image this fortnight is my wonderful Epigram senior team, who have kept me sane this term.

And so, my final musing of 2015, in issue 295…

2015 is nearing the end. I can’t quite believe it, and I don’t entirely want to accept it – as Dr Seuss said, ‘how did it get late so soon?’ Who knows, but as term, and the year, draw to a close, it seems like a good opportunity to pause for a moment and reflect.

So I decided to flick back through old issues of Epigram – I’m the ultimate keen bean, so of course I have a copy of them all stored away in my bedroom (I’m not entirely sure if that’s something I should be admitting..)

Initially, I thought I’d do a review of my favourite stories from 2015, but the task proved to be too far too vast. Instead, I decided to focus on news stories. And boy, has this year been eventful.

Here are just a few of the big issues which have dominated 2015:

1. Accommodation

Housing is an issue every year; as student numbers rise, the city and University seem, at points, unable to keep up.

In February, some of these tensions boiled over when an anonymous ‘anti-student’ leaflet was distributed in Cotham, encouraging local residents to object to planning applications for student houses.

There is rising a tension between rising student numbers and housing, which is emphasised by increasing student rents.

The same issue arose in November, when we interviewed Patricia Smith from the Richmond Area Residents’ Association. She argued that, with over 25 per cent of Clifton students, Bristol City Council were not controlling the distribution of students around the city adequately.

There is rising a tension between rising student numbers and housing, which is emphasised by increasing student rents. Indeed, this presents an issue in itself – a survey we conducted in November suggested that 70 percent of respondents had to rely on extra money from their parents, and a further 76 percent had to work to help cover their cost of living.

And yet, the quality of the private renting market is clearly lacking. In September, Bristol SU suggested that student’s are facing a ‘housing crisis.’ The findings suggested that 90% of Bristol students experience problems with private accommodation.

Tensions, affordability and quality of accommodation in Bristol have all been raised as issues this year.

To make matters worse, in October, the Deposit Protection Service warned that nationally, British students lose £335 million each year on deposits due to a lack of understanding about their legal rights. Considering that the average upfront cost to secure a rented property in Bristol is £600, students here could potentially be needlessly missing out on hundreds of pounds.

So tensions, affordability and quality of accommodation in Bristol have all been raised as issues this year; the final housing related problem is, of course, the 33 Colston Street Fire. On October 12th, the first year University accommodation was hit after a pan fire in one of the top floor flats.

The University responded swiftly, yet over 120 students were left ‘homeless’ just three weeks into term – I cannot imagine what this must have felt like.

2.Student Satisfaction 

We ended 2014 with the Arts and Social Sciences protest, which developed into a free education march, and in the new year the University began to respond.

Student protests at the end of year demonstrated low student satisfaction, and the University have tried to deal with many of the issues raised this year

Student protests at the end of year demonstrated low student satisfaction, and the University have tried to deal with many of the issues raised this year

The most significant development was the inaugural University of Bristol Question Time, in which key figures from the University sat on a panel debate, chaired by our then-Editor, Zaki Dogliani.

Bristol has dropped from 84th in the country to 106th in terms of overall student satisfaction

What emerged from the Q&A was that students were unhappy with what they perceived to be the ‘marketisation’ of higher education, with rising student numbers impacting accommodation, quality of teaching and availability of resources.

Yet although the University have taken steps to quell student concerns, in the National Student Survey student satisfaction results published in August, Bristol had dropped from 84th in the country to 106th in terms of overall student satisfaction.

In the University of Bristol’s Question Time in October, the first issue raised related to this drop in rankings. In their response, the University referred to the new student consultation and the #change1thing campaign, to encourage student’s to voice their opinions about the positives and negatives of Bristol – yet they also sidestepped issues such as the link between rising student numbers and accommodation issues.

3.General Election

No overview of the year is complete without a mention of the general election in May, which Epigram covered extensively.

I was lucky enough to be part of the team at the Bristol West election count, which was an amazing experience – despite the fact that the results weren’t released until 6:46am. It was a long night!

The election will impact us all, as we enter the world of work for the first time following graduation, attempt to buy our own homes or continue to use the National Health Service

Bristol bucked the national trend, with three of four MPs voted in being Labour candidates. The previous Liberal Democrats candidate for Bristol West, Stephen Williams, was pushed into third place, behind the Green candidate Darren Hall.

The election has set the precedent for future changes to higher education – as demonstrated by the government’s green paper on the issue, which the Conservatives released in November.

It lays the foundations for increases in tuition fees for high ranking Universities, potentially creating a two-tier education system in which the marketisation of universities increases. Yet the election will have a far bigger impact on us all, as we enter the world of work for the first time following graduation, attempt to buy our own homes or continue to use the National Health Service.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 22.56.15

Merry Christmas!

There were several other issues, including drugs, the safe space policy and diversity which have also characterised the year – unfortunately I’ve run out of the words to do explore them fully. 2015 has been very busy and I’m sure that next year will be just as eventful – it would be useful in terms of filling the paper!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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