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  • Andrew Waller

Students have 'moral duty' to obey Covid rules, uni VCs say as police act on noise reports

Bristol’s students have a “moral duty” to help limit the spread of Covid-19 and face disciplinary action if they fail to follow virus guidelines, the heads of the city’s two universities said in a public letter on 8 July.

Prof. Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and his opposite number, Prof. Steve West of the University of the West of England, praised those who have stuck to the rules but said there had been reports of students breaching health guidance, particularly in relation to social distancing.

Such behaviour “risks lives”, they said.

Their letter comes after complaints from residents, who say students who’ve returned to the city in recent weeks are constantly partying, causing late-night noise and ignoring virus risks by meeting in each other’s houses.

Police Response

While the vice-chancellors don’t mention noise disturbances, the police have followed up on recent incidents. An officer attached to the university and others from the local neighbourhood beats have visited addresses cited in complaints to advise students of the consequences they could face if disturbances continue.

The vice-chancellors’ letter to students, first reported on BristolLive, says:

"We expect all students to fully comply with the government's current guidance both within and outside of term time.

“Failure to do so risks not only your own health but the health and safety of the community around you your fellow students, local residents and staff who are working hard and at their own risk to support you. It also endangers the NHS and its staff, and increases the risk of a second lockdown.

"Given the seriousness of the threat posed by Covid-19, we are committed to taking disciplinary action against any student found to be in breach of the rules, or behaving in ways that do not align with our shared values, including being mindful of our university and city communities.”

For the full letter, go to the UWE website:

https://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/uwenews/news.aspx?id=4056

Community Anger

Student's behaviour in recent weeks has angered many in the community.

Hampton Road resident “JD” wrote: “I’m really disgusted if they are just here to use our streets as a party place while risking people’s lives by spreading the virus. It’s incredibly selfish.”

“TL”, who lives in Lower Redland Road, said: “I am shielded and locked down. The thought of streams of students roaming the streets during this pandemic is terrifying.”

Many have accused students of breaching the ban (since relaxed) on people moving to second homes, although UoB has said it considers students’ shared houses in Bristol to be their primary residences.

Stream of Complaints

Most students left Bristol and went to their parents’ homes just before lockdown began on 23 March. But many filtered back into the city in late May—despite the universities having moved their courses and exams online.

Their return was followed by a stream of noise complaints as student households made the most of warm weather to socialise in their gardens or on the streets. With pubs and bars shut, these gatherings became a nightly event. Residents who had enjoyed two months of peaceful nights during lockdown suddenly found they were constantly kept awake.

Many residents nevertheless believed peace would be restored when tenancies ended on 30 June and undergraduates left for their three-month summer break. So it came as a shock to many when new student tenants began moving into rented houses within days of them being vacated.

“MB” wrote: “Just as we sat back and thought lucky us, nobody has turned up at [xx] Ashgrove Road, there is a car park overflowing with students.”

'Mass Move-In'

Residents in Roslyn Road and Cotham Vale, which both have large numbers of student houses, said the streets were blocked with cars as a “mass move-in” took place. Some new arrivals told residents they were former first-years who’d been unable to collect belongings from halls of residence until month-end, and had decided to transfer into their student lets early; after a week or two of socialising, they planned to go home again.

However, some of the students now present could be second-years who returned in May, have ended a tenancy at one house and have now moved to another. Whether they too will shortly leave, or stay for the summer, is open to question.

The Noise Pages recorded 18 noise complaints in June, up from 10 in the same month a year earlier. And for July there are so far nearly 20 complaints, compared with zero in each of the two previous years. At this pace, complaints may exceed even the levels normally seen in October, when students party at the start of a new academic year.

'It's Exhausting'

More than half of complaints have also mentioned other recent disturbances, meaning the incidence of noise is higher than the raw figures suggest. Often this is because there has been noise on consecutive nights. Residents say disturbances often last until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.

Lansdown Road resident “JS” said: “I am a teacher, up at 6am, and it is exhausting.”

These big rises in noise complaints came despite a warning to students in March from UoB’s pro vice-chancellor for student experience, Prof. Sarah Purdy, that students could face fines of up to £800 if they failed to heed coronavirus guidelines. Judging by the numbers of noise complaints, that warning seems to have been ignored—which may be why the vice-chancellors felt compelled to issue their joint statement.

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