‘Bristol having ‘60,000 students so generous with their time? That is something to celebrate’

It was a long and cold winter, but that didn’t stop the student vets. Every fortnight they put on their biggest coats and headed into the city, handing out food parcels to homeless people with pets. They have been making sure no animal goes hungry for years – and neither cold weather nor a pandemic was going to stop them this time.

Students get a bad rap, but they make a huge contribution to our city, often in ways which go unnoticed.

They aren’t perfect (who is?) but having an extra 60,000 vibrant young adults in our city enriches it in a hundred ways, and we would be a poorer place without them.

Every day, thousands of students are doing their bit to help out. Not just through the hundreds of millions of pounds they contribute to our economy, but also with their vital voluntary work and the scientific breakthroughs that have far-reaching benefits for our city and beyond.

Many stay on, building businesses or working for our public services. Some go on to the stage or screen, to become scientists and politicians, renowned engineers and doctors – helping to export Bristol around the world.

The University of Bristol has nearly 29,500 students and UWE Bristol more than 30,000. Most of these eagerly spend their loans – hundreds of millions of pounds worth – on everything from local cafes to bus services.

In fact, a recent report found that spending by our students alone supported 4,540 jobs, and that’s not mentioning the 11,490 jobs the University of Bristol supports through its staff roster and spending with local companies. In total the university contributes £1bn a year to the region.

In 2014/15, the latest period for which figures are available, UWE Bristol supported 8,280 jobs in the region and contributed £400.1m to the local economy.

Meanwhile thousands of students volunteer in Bristol – and never have they been more needed than during the pandemic.

Over the past year more than 500 of our student medics have been working on the NHS frontline. From Abbi, a second year Bristolian determined to help out her home city, to final years like Luke, who gave up his summer to support NHS staff.

But it’s not just medics. A survey found that 30 per cent of our students volunteer in some capacity. Some help out with one of Bristol SU’s 15 student-led projects, others with hundreds of local organisations. Bristol students have been running food banks, sewing period pads for refugees, helping out in people’s gardens, putting in calls to the elderly, working with disability charities and much more.

It’s no different at UWE Bristol, where fashion students have been sewing PPE and delivering food packages worth £1,000 to local food banks.

And, of course, there are the student vets out every fortnight come rain or shine helping the homeless. Later this year they hope to set-up a free vaccination clinic for Bristol pet owners struggling to afford veterinary treatment.

Meanwhile, post-graduate students carry out world-beating research to Bristol. Marceli, a PhD student, has been embedded in a local ICU since the pandemic began, has been using technology to improve outcomes for patients.

Others develop new technology and then turn them into university spin-off companies.

Dr Harry Destecroix co-founded Ziylo while studying for a PhD at Bristol. The company developed new tech to help diabetes sufferers and was recently sold for hundreds of millions of pounds. He’s now the brains behind Science Creates Ventures, a Bristol-based venture capital firm which supports early-stage deep tech companies.

Some students never leave. Take Stephen Dunleavy who studied at Bristol and founded Humble Bee Films, which just produced the beautiful Attenborough’s Life in Colour series for the BBC.

Many, however, do, taking the good name of Bristol with them.

Every year thousands of international students graduate and head home as global ambassadors for Bristol. Others go on to great things: from actors like Simon Pegg and David Walliams, to the former head of MI5 Jonathan Evans and 13 Nobel laureates.

UWE Bristol’s Katie Alcott has helped more than 426,459 people in 617 communities reach safe water since she graduated and set up Frank Water.

Meanwhile, every year 1,400 fresh faced and eager nurses graduate from UWE Bristol. As with our final year medics, many of UWE Bristol’s third-year nurses and midwifery students chose to begin their NHS careers early when the pandemic struck.

Being a second home to nearly 60,000 students would be a huge benefit to any city, but having 60,000 talented, enterprising students so generous with their time? That is truly something to celebrate.

This article originally appeared in Bristol 24/7.

Black Lives Matter

The reality of racism was brought into sharp and disturbing focus last week as we saw how for some people Black lives simply do not matter. Sadly, the death of George Floyd in the United States is not a one-off occurrence and Black communities across the globe face racism, violence, and discrimination on an everyday basis.

We stand in solidarity with our Black staff and students against all forms of racism and social injustice.  At times like these, it is all too easy to look to people of colour to educate those around them, adding to the pressure and trauma that many are already experiencing during this time.

We recognise that it is not the responsibility of our Black colleagues and students to convince us why we need to tackle societal, structural, and institutional racism. It is the responsibility of us all to eradicate racism. We will continue to challenge this through our research, our education, and our civic engagements.  Our University with its critical role in education and shaping social policy, must be at the forefront of the continuing struggle against prejudice and inequity based on race.

We recognise that, as a University, we still have our own issues, and we are working hard to address these. Many of our Black students and staff feel isolation and discomfort as they experience daily microaggressions across campus.  We encourage students and staff to report any incident of racial harassment and seek support from us.  There is no place for racism at our University.

As the global coronavirus pandemic continues, we are also aware of evidence that Black people, as well as Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, are at disproportionately higher risk of illness, death, and bereavement.  We are conscious that this places additional stress and burden on our community. We offer wellbeing and mental health support to all our staff and students including those affected by racism:

To find out more about our activities to support our institutional commitment to race equality please see our Institutional Statement on Race Equality

Bristol SU Awards 2019

By Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience).

The last week of term was an exciting mix of celebrations and events, but the real highlight for me was being a guest at the Bristol SU Awards on Thursday 13 June. The SU awards recognise individuals or groups who have done a brilliant job in areas as diverse as student leadership, sustainability, being a fantastic staff member, or an exceptional club or society. Nominations come from students, SU and university staff, so the Awards really reflect the SU-university partnership.

The event itself was incredible. The Anson Rooms were transformed from a functional event space into a glamorous and atmospheric venue with great food and fantastic live entertainment from Jazz Funk Soul, Hindu Soc (who later won Society of the Year), UkeSoc, plus an amazingly energetic Salsa performance. But, of course, it was the nominees and award winners that stole the show. The incredible enthusiasm shown by the audience for the winners was infectious. I can’t do justice to all the awards but will give you a brief picture, so you get the idea. The full list of nominees is on the SU website.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady, presented the student leader award to Amy-Leigh Hatton for her work as president of Student Action for Refugees. This was followed by a sustainability award for Maddie Kunkler for her leadership of the RAG, Volunteering and Sustainability Network and a volunteering award recognising Shivali Sharma’s work with Nightline. The Bristol Student Staff Solidarity Group won the Campaigns Award and the BME Network the Equality and Diversity Award.

It is inspirational to learn more about the contribution students make to the lives of their fellow students and the wider university. The winner of the Education Award, Sally Emerson has been Faculty of Science UG Rep and Chair of the Education Network during 2018-19 and Ed Southgate and Cameron Scheijde have edited Epigram, earning them the Student Media Award. Of course, staff too were recognised including Robiu Salisu with the University Staff Member Award for his work as BAME Student Inclusion Officer and Monica Pacek from the SU for her contribution to student engagement. Finally, the collaboration award went to the amazing East meets West initiative and the sports club of the year award to Women’s Football.

The event was hosted by the outgoing Sabbatical Officer team and their fellow student leaders – with Oscar ceremony levels of glamour but better speeches. Thank so much to the SU for hosting the event and inviting me to attend – and a huge well done to all the winners and nominees.

The 2019 Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey – why it’s important and what we’ve been doing since last year.

Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience)

By Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience).

Young adults today are more likely to experience mental health problems than previous generations and around three in four adults who experience a mental illness will have symptoms before the age of 25[1].

Bristol takes its commitment to these issues very seriously and last year introduced an institution-wide Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey in partnership with the Bristol SU. The survey was responded to by over 5,700 students, making it one of the largest pieces of research into student mental health in the UK. It deepened our understanding of the issues affecting Bristol students and gave us valuable insight on how the support we provide is viewed.

The responses to the Survey in 2018 helped shape the University’s new Student Mental Health and  Wellbeing Strategy which outlines the work we’ll be doing to improve support for our students’ mental health and wellbeing. We’ve already began to implement some of the work highlighted in the strategy and hope the responses to this year’s Student Mental Health and Wellbeing survey will tell us if we’re on the right track – and inform us of what we can do better if not.

The survey for 2019 is now open and students can complete it at SMHW 2019.

Offering enough support to students is a must for any University. Keeping the channels open between us and our student community for conversation is essential to ensure that support is not only on offer, but right for them. The annual Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey is one such channel that provides our students an opportunity to have a confidential and frank discussion about what we offer and how we can continue to improve.

Last year’s findings have already done a huge amount towards our understanding of what our students are experiencing and their expectations. I hope this year’s findings will be equally insightful.


Here’s what we have done so far since last year’s survey.

Student wellbeing

Bristol students reported issues with their wellbeing, and one in four students said they didn’t have someone to talk to about their day-to-day problems.

Our Residential Life and Student Wellbeing Services are now providing 24/7 support for student wellbeing in residences and schools; helping students to manage their wellbeing proactively and ensuring there’s always someone to speak to for additional information, advice and support. We’ve also worked with Bristol SU to deliver the Bristol SU Living Room in Senate House; a space to relax, unwind and connect with other students whilst on campus.

Mental health

More than one in three Bristol students have experienced a diagnosed mental health problem at some point in their lives, and 80% of students with a mental health problem have seen a doctor since beginning University.

Additional University funding enables our Students’ Health Service to provide extended same day GP mental health appointments, and specialist support for students who have complex mental health conditions that require longer term psychological intervention. We’ve also increased the funding of our Mental Health Advice Team who support students with enduring mental health conditions to manage their healthcare needs alongside their studies.

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