Opinion: Bristol Uni students deserve better than silence on Covid cases

Uni is not publishing total case numbers

Bristol University made a U-turn since publication of this piece, and has now decided to publish Covid cases daily. You can see the latest Covid case numbers here.

Bristol University has made the explicit decision to not publish total Covid case numbers in the university community, meaning students and locals will not be told how many cases the university is currently dealing with.

This decision puts them at odds with universities up and down the country, such as DurhamOxfordSt AndrewsBathSheffieldNottingham, and many more who are being transparent about their Covid cases.

When The Bristol Tab spoke to Bristol VC Hugh Brady, we asked whether Bristol would do something similar, and Brady said that he would look into it. Clearly he has looked into it, and decided that we do not need transparency at Bristol Uni.

On Friday, the university confirmed “multiple” cases of Covid, and on Monday we asked the university to provide us with precise statistics on confirmed Covid cases, as well as students self-isolating.

They refused to provide any figures at all, which is disgrace. Students and staff deserve to know how many cases are in our community, and hiding those figures undermines trust in university management.

University communication has been terrible

Communication from the University has been widely criticised throughout the pandemic, and even Bristol SU is calling on the university to provide clear and concise information.

They say they the university’s messages have been “confusing or too slow”, and they are “specifically asking for open and honest communication about any outbreaks as they happen and clear announcements if another lockdown is looking likely.”

This is not good enough either. What do they mean by “open and honest communication”? The SU spokesperson said that they are not calling specifically for transparency about case numbers, which leaves the question of what the SU is actually asking for?

Transparency and openness are key elements in building trust. How can students, staff, and locals trust that the university is effectively managing the pandemic if they are not communicating with us?

The university insists that students must follow the rules to avoid a rise in cases. When your flight is delayed and the airline is not telling you why, you lose trust in the airline and the staff. The same applies here – if the university is not informing us of case numbers, we are not going to trust university management, and students are less likely to follow the rules.

Hiding Covid statistics is not “good community relations”

The university’s position is that Bristol Uni is so integrated into the local community, that there should be no difference between the city’s numbers and the university’s numbers. I could not disagree more.

The university itself argues that it is a “challenge” to integrate students into the community, which is why they use a range of “proactive initiatives which integrate students with local residents”.

Students may live in the community, but they are a distinct group. The 2,500 Freshers living in Stoke Bishop halls of residence are not integrated into the community. I don’t know any second, third, or fourth years who hang out with the families also living in their Redland neighbourhoods.

Also, Bristol Uni is not paying the police tens of thousands of pounds per year to shut down “community” house parties.

The university can’t argue in one area that we are part of the local community, and in another that we need to work proactively on integrating students – that is ridiculous.

The university’s other main argument is that they do not want students to be stigmatised by high case numbers amongst the student community.

One local resident commented to me: “The university has a responsibility to be transparent about the impact of Covid cases amongst Bristol students on the rest of the community.”

Wanting to avoid bad headlines is not a reason to hide Covid statistics. Students have the right to understand the Covid situation where they are living, and locals also have the right to know to what extent the cases in the city are coming from the university.

This is a question of trust

Students and staff deserve to know how many Covid cases are within our community. We cannot blindly trust that university authorities are effectively dealing with Covid outbreaks when we won’t necessarily know that there actually is an outbreak.

University management are the leaders of a community of 27 thousand students, plus staff. We all have the right to see an accurate, detailed picture of the health of the community in which we live, work, and socialise.

Therefore, I am calling on Bristol University to publish Covid case numbers. If other universities are doing it, there is no reason that Bristol should not. Students and staff have the right to know how many cases are in their community, and the university must do a better job at communicating with students.

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