Bristol Uni U-turns on threat to take unpaid rent out of bursaries

It would have impacted mainly students from disadvantaged backgrounds

Bristol Uni is making a U-turn after only 24 hours on their decision to deduct unpaid rent money from students bursaries, and has apologised for the “uncertainty” after receiving intense criticism from students, staff, and Bristol SU.

In a late-issued press release, a Bristol University spokesperson said: “In light of the current circumstances and following discussion with Bristol Students’ Union, we have decided we will not offset any bursary payments made in December against student debt.

“We apologise for the uncertainty this has caused and can confirm instalments will be paid in full to all bursary recipients on 2 December.”

Students on rent strike had received an email only 24 hours before the new statement, informing them that if rent was not paid by the 26th November the money would be deducted from their bursary payment, due to be paid out on the 2nd December.

Ruth Day, Student Living Officer at Bristol SU, told The Bristol Tab: “I’m really pleased that the university have seen sense and made a U-turn on this decision. It’ll make a big difference to the students affected and I’m proud to have represented their voice on this important issue.

“I hope to meet with the university in the coming weeks to ensure there is change to the policy itself and no other student faces this again.”

Day had described the initial decision as “unacceptable”, saying they would speak to the university urgently. Although the university has made a U-turn this time, the policy of deducting unpaid rent from student bursaries remains in place.

Rent Strike Bristol told The Bristol Tab: “We’re happy that they’ve taken the u turn and hope it’s one of many, but it shows the uni’s priorities that they had this policy in the first place.”

Over 1,200 students are currently withholding over £1 million in rent in protest at the university’s decision to charge full rent this academic year, amongst other complaints.

The initial decision had been criticised as “shameful” by rent strikers, while James Fishwick, Chair of the Widening Participation Network, had labelled it “disgusting”.

Fishwick reacted positively to today’s U-turn, writing on Twitter: “I welcome this decision by Bristol, the actions they set out on were shameful and disappointing. This U-turn will provide certainty for many students, and allow them to actively express their right to protest.

“The fact they set out on their original course in the first place is something I cannot comprehend.”

Three days ago, the university offered students a 10 day rent rebate, but only if full rent is paid by the 1st February 2021. The university says it is “to reflect the earlier date that many of you will now be leaving university accommodation” as a result of government Covid guidance for Christmas travel home.

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