Bristol University open day severely disrupted by UCU and UNISON protests

Prospective students ‘had no staff at all to talk to in some departments and experienced cancellation of the talks they had booked’

Thousands of students considering studying at the University of Bristol descended upon the university’s campus on Friday; however, they were met by a significant number of staff protesting and picketing due to long-standing disputes over pay and working conditions.

Both the University and College Union (UCU) and UNISON deliberately scheduled the strike to coincide with the first of Bristol University’s summer open days to highlight the ongoing problems to prospective students and their families.

These protests come after years of disputes over pay and working conditions and in the wake of the ongoing marking and assessment boycott, which has caused Bristol Uni to hand out “pretend degrees” as their mitigation plan includes allowing students to progress without having all of their work marked.

School of Modern Languages picket line (via @Bristol_UCU)

Lecturers and other members of staff set up picket lines in front of most of the main university buildings while loudly and unapologetically voicing their reasons for protesting.

One lecturer taking part in the protest told The Bristol Tab: “It goes against every instinct I have as a lecturer to protest on an open day – I would have loved to be helping prospective students, enthusing to them about Bristol’s fantastic, carefully-designed and lovingly-delivered courses.

“But the fact is that the tutors who design and deliver these courses with such care are overworked, under-compensated, and simply no longer able to provide Bristol students with the experience they deserve.”

The same lecturer added that they felt the Vice-Chancellor had “let down prospective students as they had no staff at all to talk to in some departments and experienced cancellation of the talks they had booked.”

Throughout the open day, the protesting staff relentlessly handed out leaflets to those in attendance, which satirically stated that Bristol Uni is handing out “easy degrees”, as they are graduating students without grading their work, and are giving their students “lots of free time” as they don’t listen to the concerns of staff causing them to constantly strike.

Posters were also put up across the campus which explained and criticised the university’s plan to mitigate the marking and assessment boycott.

Posters were also put up across the campus which explained and criticised the university’s plan to mitigate the marking and assessment boycott.

Anna, a final-year student, told The Bristol Tab that she spoke to many prospective students and their families during the open day, she said: “They thought the uni allowing the pickets was shocking and that it had shown them that whatever is going on at universities is more serious than they believed.

“They said it was a real shame they [Bristol University] hadn’t paid attention to the open letters or meetings with students… everybody was really shocked by the uni telling schools to go against guidelines in order to pass students.”

For many of the prospective students, this would have been their first impression of Bristol University and it will certainly be interesting to see what impact this impression has on future applications to the university.

Speaking to the BBC during the open day, Professor Judith Squires, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, said: “Well, it’s obviously a challenge for us to have industrial action during an open day and that’s not where we would have wanted to be.

“We obviously would have much preferred if we had not been in dispute, but I still feel confident this is going to be a great experience for our students who are coming today. I hope that nobody will be put off because I hope what they see is a fantastic vibrant university in a wonderful city.

“But I think they also get a sense that this is a vibrant community where there is debate and we’re open to hearing a diversity of opinions and that’s all part of what it is to be in a university.”

These comments from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor were met with outrage from Bristol Uni lecturers on Twitter, with one senior lecturer calling it “the worst case of management-speak caught on camera to date” and another labelling it “shocking complacency”.

This disparity of opinion between the university’s staff and its senior leadership team highlights the enormity of the problem and suggests that both the strikes and marking boycott are unlikely to come to an end anytime soon.

In response to the protests, Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “Despite the disappointing decision by UCU and UNISON to hold industrial action, the open days still went ahead and we showcased our fantastic university and city to 40,000 people.

“We fully respect the rights of our staff to act where they feel strongly about issues which affect them. This is a national dispute affecting over 100 universities and, while we are working with our local unions here at Bristol, the sector needs to find affordable solutions and better ways of resolving these ongoing disputes.”

Cover image credit via @How2CrackANut

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