Thousands sign petition against Bristol Uni decision to move graduation to local football stadium

‘The message couldn’t be clearer, you just want us out of the way, en masse’

Thousands of angry students and parents have signed a petition calling on Bristol Uni to reverse their decision to host Covid-disrupted graduation ceremonies at local sports ground, Ashton Gate Stadium.

Students from the July 2020, February 2021, July 2021 and February 2022 cohorts were told last week that rather than celebrate the culmination of their university experience in the traditional Wills Memorial Building, it would instead take place in a stadium two miles away from campus between 4-14 April next year.

In the past week, just over 2,100 people have signed the petition to move graduations away from a “stadium [that] is characterless, impersonal and completely irrelevant to our time at Bristol“.

Graduations usually take place in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building

Due to the Covid pandemic, as many as 15,000 students are yet to have any formal graduation ceremony. The previous in person graduation ceremony took place almost two years ago in February 2020.

Bizarrely, affected students found out their delayed graduation ceremony would take place at Ashton Gate on the university website rather than through emailing students directly.

The university did previously contact students about their wishes for graduation sending them a survey earlier this year with alternative arrangements.

However, it appears the university have chosen to act against the results of the survey. The top three comments repeatedly mentioned by students in the survey referred to them being prepared to wait longer so they could have a traditional ceremony.

Ashton Gate stadium is two miles away from campus to the south of thecity

During term time, the Wills Memorial Building is home to the School of Law as well as the School of Earth Sciences. The university argue, holding 50+ ceremonies for 15,000 students next spring would result in timetabling conflicts and a loss of teaching space for up to four weeks.

It is unclear why these delayed ceremonies couldn’t take place in the summer outside of term time.

Holding graduation ceremonies at Ashton Gate raises numerous practical concerns. Although the space does allow for social distancing, to do this, the event will take place outside, meaning the ceremony is exposed to the elements. The average high temperature in Bristol for April is just 13 degrees.

There is also the potential need for shuttle services between campus and the stadium to allow for departments to host receptions for their students.

‘The message couldn’t be clearer, you just want us out of the way’

July 2021 graduate, Nicola, said: “My graduation being moved from the Great Hall of Wills Memorial Building to a completely disconnected football stadium miles from campus is heartbreaking.”

“The message couldn’t be clearer, you just want us out of the way, en masse.”

‘I would much rather wait longer to attend’

Chloe, a Masters student who says she’s never been in a uni building because of Covid said: “To now hear that we won’t even get a graduation on campus, in the iconic Wills building, is pretty devastating. I would much rather wait longer to attend and have it where it was always meant to be.”

It’s not just impacted students who have protested the decision. Bristol Uni alumnus Danny, said in his reason for signing the petition: “Holding graduations in a stadium well outside the city or the university is yet another indicator or [sic] the university’s steady transition to prioritising business over student needs and wellbeing.

“Ashton Gate Stadium is for sport. The Wills Memorial Building Great Hall is for graduations.”

To sign the petition, follow this link here

Featured Image: @bristolcityfc

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