Epigram Editorial: The end of an era

This year has flown past, and suddenly I’ve written my final editorial for the last issue of the paper I’ll be involved in. sob. 

I first wrote for Epigram’s 265th issue; 36 newspapers later, it’s time to say goodbye.

I think it’s fair to say that my time at the publication has been a bit of a roller coaster ride; exhilarating, stressful, exhausting – but never boring. And looking back, I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

‘In reality we’ve shaped the publication for a remarkably short period of time, but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved’

But although Epigram has defined my time at Bristol – I haven’t defined Epigram. The paper, as we celebrated last fortnight, has been going for 27 years and over 300 issues; all that we have achieved this year has been, in part, thanks to the legacy we have inherited.

Countless students have worked on Epigram before us, and I’m sure that countless more will continue Epigram for many, many years to come. In reality we’ve shaped the publication for a remarkably short period of time, but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved.

In fact, it’s been a pretty amazing year. Both online and in print, we’ve developed and improved Epigram in order to best communicate with Bristol students.

As a result, we are better able to fulfil the aims James Landale originally set for the paper back in 1989: ‘to interest, inform, amuse and stimulate the student body’; to ‘provide a forum for their own views to be expressed’; and to ‘act as a watchdog on the Union and University hierarchy.’ A lot has changed since James’ time – we no longer have to rely on floppy disks, for example – but these principles have held strong.

As I wrote in my piece for the 300th issue, Epigram cannot, and must not, be frightened of change; it is an important part of the improvement process. This year has seen us further adjusting to new trends in media and technology, and our success in doing so has been recognised at a national level.

Epigram was highly commended not only for ‘Best use of Digital Media’, but also for ‘Best Publication’ at the Student Publication Awards last month, which is a huge honour. Considering the strength of the content we’ve produced in the last 12 months, I’m not sure why gaining this recognition ever surprised me.

Indeed, when I was planning my final editorial, I had originally intended to pick out a few of my favourite stories from the year. Flicking through past issues demonstrated just how difficult this task is; the content we have filled our newspaper with each week has been informative, interesting and amusing – a testament to the hard working team of editors and writers who have contributed.

So instead, I want to share some of my thoughts on a current and very big issue at Bristol: the cost of accommodation.

Of course, any discussion of how expensive rents in Bristol are couldn’t begin without referencing the University’s recent announcement that rents will increase by 4-5% from September. Their justification for this is that they need to make accommodation and related services cost neutral and self sustainable, and I understand that higher education is facing increasingly tight budgets.

However, a 5% rise is huge, way above inflation, and feels out of touch with student opinion. It also takes advantage of the effective monopoly the University has over first year halls – what option do freshers have except pay the high rents if they want the typical “student experience”?

From September, the average rent of Bristol University halls will be over £6000; this year the average maintenance loan received nationally was £4040. Even some of the cheaper halls, such as UH, will see their rents increase to £4,475 next year. The maintenance loan isn’t even close to covering the cost of accommodation, leaving students with two options – rely on generous parents, or go and get a job.

For many from lower income families the formed simply isn’t an option, forcing students to find paid employment alongside a full time degree to pay the rent and all other living costs: food, books, nights out…

Related Article: An open letter the the Vice Chancellor on rent increases

The University’s decision seems to me to be a slap in the face to their commitment to ‘widen participation.’ How can they expect students from lower income backgrounds to come to the University when they will face such difficulties financing themselves on arrival?

‘The University, in my opinion, should limit student numbers in line with factors such as the availability of housing’

Bristol currently has one of the largest proportions of private school students of any university in the UK, and 45% of Stoke Bishop residents are from independent schools. The University should be developing politics to encourage a broader range of students to come to Bristol – meeting those from different backgrounds and broadening our horizons is, after all, a key aspect of growing up. The announced rent hike seems to be doing the opposite, and actions speak louder than words.

But high rent isn’t just a problem in first year; by all accounts, Bristol is one of the most expensive places to be a student in the UK outside of London. And it’s getting worse: I know people paying over £500 a month for houses next year (thank god I’m graduating!). As student numbers rise, private landlords can get away with charging increasingly outrageous rents as demand is higher than supply.

https://twitter.com/thomas_phipps/status/725323195121815552

This results in increasing numbers of students struggling to pay the rent, but also tension between students and local residents who are fed up with “studentification.” Indeed, in Clifton 25% of residents are students – it’s little wonder that locals get frustrated.

The University, in my opinion, should limit student numbers in line with factors such as the availability of housing – while they can’t control this at a city wide level, they can limit the difficulties their own students are likely to encounter. Perhaps this would also avoid situations such as those faced by students in September 2014, when over 150 freshers had to share single rooms in bunk best as Bristol accepted too many students to house.

Fundamentally, more needs to be done to ensure that Bristol in an accessibly university for everyone, and the cost of accommodation needs to be addressed as part of this conversation. I don’t, however, believe there are any quick fixes to the problem, so I expect Epigram will continue to cover the issues surrounding widening participation and high rents across the board for many, many years to come.

On the topic of the future, I’m happy to say that Ben Parr, our current Investigations Editor, will be taking over as Editor, with James O’Hara as Managing Director.

‘Epigram is a community, a community I don’t really want to leave, but one I am proud to have been a part of’

They had a strong and experienced Senior Team behind them, and I am confident that under their leadership Epigram will continue to provide interesting, informative and important stories about student life for Bristol students, while adjusting to changing circumstances and developing all that we have created this year. I’m excited to see what they produce.

On that note, thank you all for reading Epigram this year, thank you to all the writers for contributing, and thank you to the Section Editors, Sub Editors and Business Team for all of your hard work. And of course, thank you to the amazing Senior Team who had had my back and whose dedication this year has been enormous. The people I’ve met at Epigram had made doing what I love, journalism, all the more rewarding.

Epigram is a community, a community I don’t really want to leave, but one I am proud to have been a part of.

epigram team 2015-2016

‘I first wrote for Epigram’s 265th issue; 36 newspapers later, it’s time to say goodbye’

snewey out. *mic drop*.

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