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The SU Election: What do students believe are the core issues of our university? 

Last week, Bath Time Magazine ran one of the broadest surveys in its history, asking each one of you what you believed the most key issues affecting your university experience were, and 80 of you responded. In this article, we will go over the results of the survey before going into more detail (as well as providing context) on what many of you mentioned. 

Lastly, we send a massive thank you to all the students who participated! 

Methodology

Students were anonymously asked the question, ‘What are the greatest issues affecting your university experience?’. We deliberately left our survey open-ended to encourage students’ ability to lay claim to university narratives and express themselves as freely as possible. This meant that we received a diverse range of responses, both in the issues that were mentioned, and the number of them mentioned by each respondent. We did surmise some consistent trends, and for the sake of providing clarity categorised them to understand how widespread some of these issues may be. Moreover, we recognised that students from minority groups (international students, students with additional needs and members of the LGBTQ+ Community) may have a unique perspective on this question that might not resonate with many students but is of the same importance nonetheless, and we have made sure to shine a spotlight on the responses from these perspectives.

Results

IssueShare Of Student Responses Each Issue was Included
Transport18.75%
Financial/Cost of Living16.25%
Accessibility3.75%
Academic23.75%
Housing13.75%
Community18.75%
Climate Action2.50%
Mental Health7.50%
University Facilities15.00%
Assimilating into British social and academic life2.50%

As one can see, a myriad of issues seems to affect your university experiences. The most common of those seem to be Academic (23.75%), Transport (18.75%), Community (18.75%) and Financial/Cost of Living (16.25%) related. This is not to say that these issues should not be regarded as less important or less in need of being addressed, and we will now explore the responses to each of these issues. 

Academic

There is no aspect more essential to the University experience than the academic side of things, and many students shared responses relating to a lower quality of teaching than they expected, disorganised courses and much more. 

‘‘Extremely bad personal tutor with limited recourse. Found faculty very discouraging about changing’’.

‘’Limited contact hours as a humanities student (POLIS), no one-on-one hours, personal tutor has never got in contact’’.

‘’The lecturers aren’t very good, they just expect respect and too much of that is not reciprocated, late marks, late emails, rude and unhelpful. Too much work that is unrealistic to be done on top of assignments and useless homework that does nothing to help at all. Repeated lectures from past years and they teach us again the basics(…) definitely not worth the £9,500!’’ 

‘’Academic support and quality – seminars poorly organised and not very useful, massive gap between academics and students’’.

‘’University takes up most of my time, not much time left for personal life/hobbies. University courses are usually very poorly managed (assignments unclear or include errors)’’.

Many students criticised the lack of contact hours they found within their course, with one response above alleging that their personal tutor ‘’has never got in contact’’.

Other responses criticised teaching to be of a low quality, either through a lack of organisation or an unfairly high workload undermining their ability to participate in university life.  Considering the variety of departments and courses at Bath it is difficult to make more direct recommendations based on the results of this survey. However, the UCU, which is the Union responsible for safeguarding the rights of academic staff, alleges timeand time again how higher education staff are often severely overworked, and departments are prone to staff shortages.    

Transport

Transport was a significant area of contention for many students. Many displayed concerns over the 2023 risein First Bus fare prices. Whilst First Bus has frozen single-bus fares for adults it has reduced student discounts, from 25% to 20%, and this does not include the rise in other forms of bus fare. As one student writes below, public transport is costing students hundreds of pounds every year. 

‘’The busses are awful and should be free for students’’.

‘’The Bus is genuinely awful. I’m paying over £400 pounds just to get to campus. And every time I’ve tried to get up to campus since starting semester 2 I’ve been late. Not due to me being disorganised I’ve been arriving at the bus stop 45 minutes before my lecture starts every day. The buses are either full from the first stop or just get cancelled. It is absolutely ridiculous’’. 

‘’Bus prices are far too high (…) me and many students have to spend a lot of valuable time walking because we can’t afford the bus’’.

Another cause for concern when it comes to the university’s public transport infrastructure seems to be its difficulty keeping up with the demands of university life. Many students mentioned how buses are often inconsistent and overcrowded, with one comment above alleging that the poor bus service often leaves them late for seminars and lectures. Another student claims that it is impossible to get on the U2 bus unless you live in Oldfield. 

‘’First bus </3 please have more consistent buses’’. 

‘’it’s impossible to get to uni (on the bus) sometimes especially if you’re not living in Oldfield’’.

Our university bus service exists as the primary form of transport for many students to get to campus, and therefore should be considered an essential part of the university infrastructure. As one may gather, the state of our bus service is bleeding into other student issues, exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis and disrupting students’ academic experience. One comment argues that ‘buses should be free for students’, and the longer the service provided by First Bus falls far below students’ standards, the more students may question the university’s decision to leave a crucial part of our university infrastructure in the hands of a private, profit-motivated company. Is it time that the University discarded First Bus and elected to run its own bus service that may at the very least be far more affordable for our student population? 

Community

‘’My experience at uni has been so drastically shaped by my flatmates. We get on so well and spend lots of time together. I know friends who have not been so lucky and this has really affected how isolated they feel at uni’’. 

‘Not feeling I belong’.

A common issue that many students felt related to the community as a whole. In particular, a feeling evoked by students was one of isolation due to minimal opportunities to make friends beyond many of the people in their accommodation. Some students also felt that there were few people from their background, making it difficult to relate to others.

‘’This is probably because I am studying an extremely competitive course at a very prestigious university but probably the lack of people from low-income backgrounds. I am a first-gen student who is a young adult carer and had FSM for roughly 10 years and everyone that I know seems to have had a rather privileged life; I feel like I know no-one who has went through similar experiences as me’’.

Unfortunately, our survey also found that discrimination is still a regular occurrence at Bath. One respondent reported that the greatest issue affecting their university experience was ‘homophobia’, disclosing that they had experienced ‘being harassed and being called slurs etc. on the parade and so forth’’. Another respondent suggested that sexual assaults was still a significant feature of the Bath nightlife, reporting being groped ‘‘8 times’’. 

‘‘Nightlife not great, too many weirdos. Been groped like 8 times’’

‘’Homophobia, being harassed and called slurs etc on the parade and so forth’’

Financial/Cost Of Living

Many students reported increased financial pressures because of the rising cost of living in the last couple of years. According to a survey by NUS, (National Union of Students), over 96% of students are being forced to cut back in various ways because of the cost-of-living crisis, with over half having to cut back on food.  

‘’Financial insecurity, living costs have risen whilst student finance has remained the same. The university offers financial support but a lot of the support is aimed at students from low income families but with the cost of living crisis many more students can’t rely on their families for extra as they are also squeezed’’

‘’Cost of living’’

‘’Lack of financial support from the University for students struggling during the cost of living crisis’’.

Financial issues were mentioned alongside other issues more than any other category, suggesting that this is an issue perhaps exacerbated, or an exacerbating factor, of other student issues, such as transport, mental health, and housing.

Another topic brought up by students was the cut to scholarships for joining students next year. The changes will see a dramatic decrease in the finances available to students, and next year recipients of the Bath Bursary will see students receive only a third of what they would have received this year in cash, making up a total of £2750 this year through campus food and drink credits as well as accommodation reductions. Continuing students will see even less without an accommodation reduction, and there are also significant reductions for students on the gold scholarship. This is all with the caveat that the parental income criteria for those who qualify will go up from £25,000 to £30,000. 

‘’Buses, cost of living, quality of housing. The university itself is doing a fairly good job, apart from cutting the bursaries – this doesn’t personally affect me, but disgusts me nonetheless’’.

‘’The cut to Bath scholarships and bursaries affecting many socio-economically disadvantaged students’’.

Whilst the university may argue that this will provide much-needed help to a greater spread of students, questions will remain over whether they have abandoned those students who are the most socio-economically disadvantaged. Many may further criticise the idea of cutting students’ funds when the amount available to students should logically increase to match the rising cost of living. Moreover, the introduction of food and drink credit as well as an accommodation subsidy may be an attempt by the university to allow those on bursaries to participate more in university life, but one wonders whether the factor of extortionate bus prices for off-campus bursary recipients was neglected in this decision making.

It is unlikely that the grievance against these changes is over. 

University Facilities

A notable inclusion in student responses regarded issues with the University Facilities. These ranged from wishes for greater study spaces off-campus as well as more areas to simply relax. 

‘’Especially in later years when you’re not living on campus and have a 3 hour break between lectures, you don’t necessarily want to spend all that time working in the library, just a place to chill and watch something on your laptop or listen to music would be great’’.

‘’Not enough study spaces, most of the time it’s impossible to find places to study starting from the library and finishing all cafeterias’’.

‘’Not enough seating in library/su/management building to revise esp during exam season’’.

‘’My lab still not being complete so I cannot begin my work properly’’. 

Housing

Housing was a significant inclusion in the survey, strongly associated with responses referencing financial and mental health. Many students described the housing market as becoming increasingly overcrowded, with rising rent rates being exacerbated by a lack of affordable options leaving many students trapped in low-quality accommodation.  

‘’Paying rent’’

‘’Housing prices and availability. There are limited supplies of houses that students can afford which causes individuals to suffer in damp-ridden houses, black mold and some even commute from Chippenham due to their inability to afford’’.

‘’I lost the house we’ve paid a deposit for and had to restart my search at the end of February, there’s no houses left at this time which creates so much extra stress on top of Uni’’

‘’Struggling to find affordable housing’’

At a meeting with the local council in December, representatives from both the University of Bath and Bath Spa student unions conveyed the ‘’deplorable’’ state of student housing in Bath, declaring that over half of students are being left anxious and depressed due to uncertainties over their future living plans and inadequate living. 

‘’Cost of private rent, feel like we need a body to negotiate with the council to cap rents and ensure students aren’t exploited’’. 

The crisis that is presently afflicting student housing seems to be a national one, with a rising student population and fewer student properties every year, a pattern occurring across the UK. As we move into the SU election week, the question may be what can be done in Bath? 

Mental Health

Unsurprisingly, the issue of mental health sprang up considerably among student responses. A survey by the National Union of Students reported that half of students said that mental health issues negatively impacted their university experience, and our survey found that mental health was described as both an issue in itself, as well as one exacerbated by other problems. 

‘’Depression’’

‘‘Anxiety’’

‘’Loneliness’’

‘’Stress about next year (I’m a final year student)’’. 

‘’Not feeling I belong’’

One respondent mentioned that the greatest issue affecting their university experience is ‘’mental health support’’, arguing that there is both a lack of awareness over what is available to students, as well as a lack of support more generally speaking. A student anonymously disclosed to Bath Time that after being recommended a session with a well-being supervisor in early January, they were only sorted an appointment this week – a 7-week wait. As previously mentioned, one could say that mental health issues are commonly associated with other student issues mentioned in this survey. 

‘’Mental health and money’’

‘’There’s no houses left at this time which creates so much extra stress on top of Uni’’.

‘’Stress, Lack of time to engage in social activities’’.

Accessibility 

Accessibility was also a theme in our survey. This was a recurrent theme implying that there are aspects in which our university could do more to help students with accessibility requirements. One respondent called for the addition of t-loops (an assisted listening system which broadcasts sound in a room to one’s hearing aid) to every lecture theatre, as they found that ‘’it’s a real struggle for those with hearing aids in lectures’’. Another respondent, a wheelchair user, found that many lifts throughout campus were locked, leaving them unable to access either the SU or ‘’reliably’’ access their lectures. This particular respondent also reported serious neglect of their accessibility needs by university staff, remarking that the ‘’estates’’ lied to them all the time as well as refusing to make the modifications necessary despite their ‘begging for three years’’. How they had been treated by university staff seemed to significantly undermine their university experience, saying that they ‘’hate going to campus’’.  

‘’I’m a wheelchair user and despite my begging for three years to have lifts not be locked they still are. I cannot access the SU or my lectures reliably because of this. I hate going to campus and estates lie to me all the time’’.

‘’T-loop for hearing aids in every lecture theatre – it’s a real struggle for those with hearing aids in lectures’’.

‘’A lack of university funding for the Disability Service, meaning that students are being forced to wait for long periods of time for DAPs’’.

‘’The new sensory room in the library is great’’. 

Another issue brought up was a perceived lack of funding for the disability service. On the other hand, there were some more positive comments regarding the new sensory room, a collaborative project between the SU, the University, and students alike (you can read more about the sensory room here). Perhaps this alludes to the success of university infrastructure when the target population of those that use it have a direct hand in its implementation.

Climate Action

Another featured theme in our survey related to climate action, with some students feeling that the university should both do more or that it arguably helps exacerbate the climate crisis. One response said that ‘’it was difficult to be able to look forward to the future knowing the desperate state we are in’’, noting the prevalence that negative climate policies have on students’ mental health. The response also suggested that the university encourages student graduate employability ‘’in the most polluting industries’’, promoting an interesting dynamic between the university’s pursuit to improve student’s graduate prospects, and its attempt to ensure that it is on the right side of the fight against the climate crisis.

‘’For me, the main issue is our university’s response to the climate crisis. It seems difficult to be able to look forward to the future knowing the desperate state we are in, and that the university continues to actively promote careers in the most polluting industries’’.

‘’Climate action & Sustainability’’ 

However, there are plenty of groups at the university who are attempting to play a very active role in saving our planet. You can find out more about these groups and how to get involved here, as well as reading our student’s guide to sustainability

Assimilating Into British Social and Academic Life

We received some responses from international students, many conveying the difficulty of integrating into our university. One response mentioned that integrating into the British education system is difficult when many international students may have been taught a different skillset and different content in comparison to home students, leading many international students into being academically disadvantaged.  Another comment mentioned the increase of international students’ tuition fees locking out many students from the opportunity to study at Bath, arguing that it could lead to a reduction in the academic quality of students here in Bath.  

‘’I think as an international student, getting used to a new education system is hard on its own but what makes it’s even worse is the fact that some of us don’t have the same knowledge base as others who might have done their undergrad in the UK. We often lack understanding of key concepts that might not have been taught to us in our countries. So, the university should introduce some refresher/pre-knowledge courses (could be delivered online) before the actual course begins. This ensures that everyone get the same headstart and are able to do well in their respective courses’’. 

Hopefully, the University can take this constructive feedback and help improve the experience of many in the international community here in Bath.  

A Bath Time Message

Primarily, the intention behind this survey was to produce a powerful culmination of the student voice, as well as to provide many of you with the anonymous opportunity to describe the issues of your university experience for the first time. It is no secret that the University of Bath is a celebrated institution, whether that may be receiving the University of the Year Award, or entering the top 5 universities in the 2024 Complete University Guide Rankings. But, in the context of a large academic institution, achievements are not binary; just because our university achieves this does not allude to an absence of any issues.

Speaking from my perspective as a student, it can often feel that our university likes to market a grand narrative of progress to the wider world, in a way that causes issues affecting both myself and my fellow students to be swept under the rug. We all share a common interest in the University of Bath progressing to be the greatest it can be for the lecturer, student, or member of staff. Any rational person should also know that you cannot properly progress if you don’t tackle the issues affecting any member of our community head-on. 

In the run-up to the SU elections next week, I hope that this survey can help usher in an era of greater open dialogue between all members of our community. Lastly, I send an important reminder to the University of Bath that any progress they wish to make will be impeded if they only publicly mention the achievements of our university and refuse to acknowledge its plethora of issues. 

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