Bristol Uni November graduations: A conscious snub to our international students

For most international students, our students visa expire on 30th October

Muazam is the current Bristol SU International Students Officer

Bristol Uni’s decision to move this summer’s graduates ceremony to November is a conscious disadvantage to international students.

This is because for most international students, the expiry date on their student visa is 30th October.

Being an international student should be a reason to celebrate, rather than a disadvantage and it’s the university’s responsibility to make sure that graduation is an accessible experience for everyone.

Why is this a problem?

For international students to be able to attend the November graduations, some assumptions must be made. Firstly, that all international students get visit visas.

It’s easier and simpler to get a student visa than it is to get a visa for visiting purposes, let alone the cost of applying for one. For our international students this will not just be the cost of one application, but also the cost of their family members who wish to celebrate this milestone.

Secondly, that all international students have the resources to pay for flights and accommodation, again and again.

Most students in their final year decide their tenancies and think ahead to the graduation date.  They also often make their travel arrangements beforehand. International students already pay well over double the tuition fees of home students and now graduation will impose more financial difficulties.

Why are the uni doing this?

The pandemic has created a huge backlog of ceremonies stretching back to July 2020 as the uni plans to host ceremonies for 18,000 students.

It was this same issue of backlogs, that led to debates about having graduation ceremonies in Ashton Gate rather than the Wills building. However, as a Bristol SU Officer team we fought hard to make sure this didn’t happen.

I’ve been part of a series of consultations to  help understand which time would work best for students due to graduate this year and the discussions were fed into the decision making of the university.

In the feedback we provided to the university, it was clear that months after October would disproportionately disadvantage international students in their ability to attend.

What am I doing about it

Like many of you, I was disappointed by the recent decision.

Since the dates on graduation 2022 were announced, I’ve been meeting with both the university and international students to understand what can be done to make sure graduation is accessible to all, and to lobby for this to happen.

I’m aware of the petitions that exist, and I want students to know that this is something I am actively working on.

This is what Bristol Uni should be doing:

  • Lobby the Home Office to extend student visas, so that it’s easier for students to attend their graduation
  • Move the ceremonies to August, or give international students the option of something earlier
  • Consider the additional costs associated with graduation for international students and provide financial support with gown hire and further costs.

I hope that through continued conversations, this is something we can secure for this year.

A Bristol Uni spokesperson said: “We’d like to thank our graduating students for their patience while we have been working on plans for the graduation ceremonies we’ve had to put on hold over the last two years due to the pandemic.

“We know how important it is to get this right for our whole university community and were actively looking at options to host ceremonies at other venues in the city due to the high numbers of students who are eligible to graduate.

“However, what was made really clear was how important a graduation in the iconic Wills Memorial Building was for our students, their families and supporters.

“Organising and facilitating ceremonies for around 18,000 students in this space has been challenging, and the dates we have identified in April, July and November were the best and in some cases only options available to us without adding yet more delays.

“We fully appreciate that holding ceremonies in November will present some of our international students with difficulties in terms of travel and visas and are working with colleagues from the Students’ Union to see what additional support and advice we can offer.

“We hope that as many students as possible are able to return to Bristol to celebrate their graduation ceremony with us this year.”

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