Why every ASS student should join Friday’s protest
Asking the university to prove your degree costs £9,000 is ridiculous, but asking for better treatment isn’t
This Friday, something strange is happening in Bristol. For the first time in years, students are taking action.
English third year and Epigram writer George Robb’s call for a protest against the Arts and Social Sciences faculty has attracted over 1,100 students on Facebook. The eventual turnout is expected to be even higher.
Their demand? To know this: “Where is half our money going if not on us?”
Last month I wrote an article with the headline: “I went to Bristol for three years and it was shit compared to Cambridge”. I was disturbed by the lack of resources Bristol had to offer compared to Cambridge – particularly as students at both institutions are paying the same amount. The response was fairly overwhelming, and at times vitriolic.
But I was asking for it. The piece was written in a deliberately provocative tone and I fully expected people to respond in the way that they did.
However, the issues touched on in the article are worth discussing. What many have experienced as an Arts student at Bristol is unsatisfying and an unfair waste of time and money.
However, it’s a mistake to get bogged down in worrying how our university spends its money, which is what originally motivated George Robb to organise this protest.
One of the demands he makes of Pro Vice Chancellor Judith Squires is that “every time the university spends a penny of our money on something that does not benefit us, we want to know.”
When I questioned Robb on this particular point, he admitted: “I could probably scratch that off”. Making that argument would be to forget that we’re students, not consumers.
We need to stop acting like angry customers. Instead, it’s time to begin a constructive dialogue with our university to address the fact that we feel we are being conned into paying an eye-wateringly expensive membership to a sub-standard, overcrowded and poorly stocked library.
Among ASS students in Bristol, this feeling is far too common, and it has to change.
Robb’s manifesto touches on the serious shortcomings that Bristol Arts students suffer. Robb told The Tab that the protest’s main line boils down to this: “We need more books and we need more staff”.
Without these basic resources, students cannot expect to be fulfilled by their academic experience at Bristol. Once our money is being spent on these necessities, Bristol can then begin to also address the lack of contact hours and the lack of work.
The Arts and Social Sciences faculties create a culture of apathy in Bristol. One History of Art third year told the Tab: “Everyone has become lazy and bored because nothing is motivating us.
“They’ve given up on teaching us. I’ve probably written less than 10 essays in my three years of uni.”
What Friday’s protesters demand isn’t unreasonable. They demand not to be made to feel like second class students, bundled into the abomination that is the ASS library and left there, forgotten, to “get on” with their degrees.
The university needs to stop taking the attitude that because these subjects involve independent study they are “self-taught”.
This is a supposedly prestigious university. We did not sign up for a lightweight correspondence course. We want contact hours. We want teaching. We want essays. We want books.
We do not want to feel like cash cows, herded into our cramped and overcrowded study spaces while across the road a shiny new spaceship is built for the science students, complete with an exclusive rooftop bar.
One third year I spoke to, who studies Politics and Sociology, told me: “I hate Bristol. I live in London now, it saves on rent.
“I only have lectures two days a week so I take the train up then. Otherwise I just work in the SOAS Library, which is far better.”
For a full-time undergraduate to even be able to resort to this kind of experience is nothing short of tragic.
One of the commenters on my Cambridge vs Bristol piece, using the name “BadockReject” helpfully suggested I should not “just stand there like a fucking lemon going ‘Educate Me, I demand to be Educated.’”
To this I reply: if we cannot expect our university to educate us for nine grand a year, what exactly can we ask of it?
If it can’t provide us with such basic resources as books, teaching staff, and places to work, then we have a right to feel angry. We have the right to want change. We have the right to take action.
So on Friday go to Senate House with these words in mind: Educate me. I demand to be educated.