‘The key thing is if you need help, ask’: New Bristol Vice-Chancellor is here to listen
The Tab asks Evelyn Welch about staff strikes, the housing crisis and Florence and the Machine
In 2022 The University of Bristol opens its doors to a brand new Vice Chancellor, the first woman to take on the role at Bristol Uni.
Bristol Uni is undergoing monumental historical change and The Tab seeks to address the concerns students have about the university and the upcoming academic year, as we get to know Evelyn Welch.
What is the new Bristol Vice Chancellor, Evelyn Welch, like?
Immediately Evelyn is bubbly and her enthusiasm for her new job and Bristol as a city is visible, as she describes going to her favourite spots for coffee and strolling through the cobbled streets.
But she’s aware of the challenge she’s up against. The first thing that strikes me about our new Vice-Chancellor, is she wants a fresh start from former VC-Hugh Brady. Evelyn says: “There’s that sense of a fresh start and a new beginning…I want people to know who I am and feel that they can talk to me and give me their very honest views.”
Unlike previous years, when students have been housed in Bath, Evelyn says: “We’ve been very careful this year. Freshers you will be in Bristol, in Bristol accommodation.”
Throughout the summer Bristol University has been actively advertising for local Bristol residents to take in Bristol Uni students as homestays. She explains: “Home-stays are valuable, particularly for international students who want to get that sense of belonging to the city”.
Evelyn soon reveals her interest regarding the environment as the conversation continues regarding the Bristol housing crisis. Evelyn mentions: “We’re working really closely with the city so that we grow our student accommodation…we want to grow collaboratively and we’ve grown sustainably”.
The university’s approach to the climate emergency is even “one of the reasons that I have come to Bristol. Bristol is decades ahead of many other universities in terms of challenging ourselves, to think what is the cost to the planet as well as to ourselves?”
The rising cost of living
Energy bills are expected to skyrocket this year and people throughout the UK are concerned.
The main way our new Bristol Vice Chancellor says that the University plans to help students is by “working closely with our Students Union to try to put together a hardship fund which is fast and flexible and streamlined. Following feedback from students last year we’ve really focused on making it easier to access.” More information about this will be provided in Freshers’ Week.
Mental health support
Since 2018, 14 students have tragically died by suicide while studying at the University of Bristol.
As the enquiries begin on how Evelyn thinks past situations have been handled, she states that whilst she cannot comment on the past, one of her “number one priorities as a Vice Chancellor is to ensure that we continue providing excellent support and that we do improve where we can. Above all, I want to make sure that students and staff who need help know that it’s okay to ask for help.”
The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023 was released last Friday 16 of September and only 69% of students said that they were satisfied with their experience at the University of Bristol. Evelyn says: “We have pockets of amazing, amazing support where students really say, ‘I’ve really have had the experience that I wanted at university,’ and then we have areas where that just isn’t the case. We need to pull the ones where it’s just not working up.
“I’m not saying that every student at Bristol should have an absolutely amazing, mind blown experience. But every student at Bristol should have an absolutely consistent high quality experience.”
The University of Bristol recorded a £66 million surplus in 2021 which provided a bad taste in many of the lecturers’ mouths as the university did not meet UCU demands. Evelyn says: “these are national issues…and if there had been a simple, easy solution, I can promise you we would have found this in 2018 when the strikes started.
“I am certainly impressed by the way we work closely with staff unions at the University of Bristol as well as the Student Unions and I am hopeful that we can turn to dialogue and to coming together to problem solve.”
Teaching has been disrupted by Covid-19, as well as many students in the previous year missing out on weeks of teaching due to staff striking. Evelyn says: “is incredibly sad that students had their lives and their education disrupted by strike as well as covid. We want to find better ways of resolving this very challenging set of issues”.
12 Bristol students showed their solidarity with the staff that were choosing to strike by occupying the Wills Memorial Building for 10 days in March 2022. Evelyn mentioned: “students may not realise there are two ballots, one is around pension, and one is around pay. We are doing our best to contribute to the national discussion and to do what we can locally.”
New Bristol Vice Chancellor Evelyn’s personal definition of success for herself after a year is that she wants “people to feel I’m approachable, that they know that I do genuinely want to work collaboratively. I want people to know who I am and feel that they can talk to me to give me their very honest views.”
With 24,000 students and only one Vice Chancellor it is difficult for everyone to feel heard. Evelyn replies: “I have come up with an arrangement whereby all the student officers and I will meet on a very regular basis, and then that will feed through to things, like meeting the student council, meeting different student groups and attending Society events.”
It is then Evelyn’s turn to reach out to the students of Bristol with the plea of “help me hear student voices”. She wishes to discuss with students what the best way of reaching them is. Although Tiktok might be far off the horizon for now, Evelyn expresses that she would be happy to do a Q&A on The Bristol Tab Instagram so watch out for this development to unfold.
Florence and the Machine
Don’t worry everyone, I didn’t forget the massive elephant in the room. The question that everyone has been dying to know the answer to: will Evelyn Welch’s daughter, Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, be playing at your graduation ceremony?
Amongst good natured laughter Evelyn said: “it’s been a long time since she’s done a graduation ceremony”. She definitely didn’t shut the suggestion down though.
Join The Bristol Tab
Have you always fancied yourself as a writer but don’t know where to start? You’re in luck, The Bristol Tab is looking for new writers for the upcoming academic year!All the information is published here and we hope to see you at our open meeting on October 6th at 6pm.