‘Stay safe, follow the rules and be respectful’- our message to Bristol’s student community

As we approach the new academic term, we remain committed to supporting our community and our city.  At this point in time, this includes being absolutely clear with our new and returning students that this will not be a normal academic year and there are very clear expectations relating to their behaviour.

Our message is simple – stay safe, follow the rules and be respectful.

Throughout the national lockdown, the overwhelming majority of students followed the government’s public health guidance. We expect they will continue to do so in the months ahead.

From the very start of the COVID pandemic, staff and students at UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol have worked tirelessly to help fight the virus and this work continues. From world-leading medical research into testing and vaccine development, to policy research around domestic violence and public health guidance – our universities have focused their collective expertise and state-of-the-art facilities to help Bristol address the challenges posed by coronavirus and, ultimately, save lives.

This collective institutional effort has seen hundreds of students and staff join the NHS as doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. University accommodation and free parking has been offered to front-line NHS staff. Vast amounts of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer has been manufactured and donated to front-line services. An army of student volunteers has supported foodbanks and provided much-needed support to the most vulnerable. UWE’s Frenchay Campus hosted Bristol’s NHS Nightingale Hospital and a Public Health England testing centre is now open to the public at the University of Bristol’s Victoria Rooms car park on Queens Road.

However, we recognise and understand the concerns our community will have about the return of students over the next few weeks.  To help with this, a huge amount of planning has gone into ensuring their return to Bristol is as Covid-secure as possible and that they can have a great experience in our city without putting themselves, or others, at risk.

Both universities have introduced a comprehensive range of measures to minimise the potential transmission of the virus. For example, to avoid mass gatherings, we are offering a blended approach to education which comprises both online and small group in-person teaching. Large-scale lectures will not take place and our physical estates have been reconfigured to allow for maximum social distancing.   New student arrivals will be staggered over several weeks. Staff and students will be given face coverings for use on campus and we have robust systems in place to identify cases of COVID-19 as early as possible, support affected individuals, and minimise any risk of further infection.

Elsewhere, this year’s Freshers’ events will be mostly held online, with both Students’ Unions having worked incredibly hard to create a mix of high-quality online and in-person events that comply with all government guidelines. Importantly, large gatherings and house parties are not permitted in university halls or private rented accommodation. While some individual students may be tempted to join such gatherings, we are clear this behaviour is unacceptable.

We take our responsibilities to our community very seriously and we have clear systems in place to respond to student misconduct on and off campus. Most recently, we have worked closely with Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Police to agree a joint approach to COVID-19 rule enforcement. Given the seriousness of the threat posed by the virus, both universities are committed to taking swift disciplinary action against any student found to be in breach of the rules. Such violations may also be a criminal offence and will be dealt with appropriately.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to represent an unprecedented challenge to public health. In response, both UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol are working closely with partners across the city to mitigate risk and keep our communities safe.

Bristol’s students are such an important part of the life, culture and economy of our great city. We hope permanent residents will find our joint approach to the new academic year reassuring and will continue to give a characteristically warm Bristol welcome to our students over the coming weeks.

We know that many of our students feel understandably very upset about the present situation. They are deeply concerned about their own personal health and they are worried about negative portrayals of young people in the media and the suggestion they alone are responsible for the rise in nationwide COVID infections.

We are confident that the vast majority of students will continue to do the right thing, to follow the rules, and to act as considerate and conscientious neighbours within their communities, but if you see or experience unacceptable student behaviour in your community, please report it via UWE’s Community Liaison Team: community@uwe.ac.uk; or the University of Bristol’s Community Team: community-living@bristol.ac.uk

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor and President, UWE Bristol