In the summer of this year, 2012, The University of Bristol announced changes to its policies on the use of its sporting and training facilities. The university stated that it was now “mandatory to purchase a Sport & Activity Pass if you intend to play for a University Sports Club which uses University facilities for training and matches” 1; it will no longer be possible to turn up and pay. The change in policy marginalises students using the facilities on a casual basis and threatens many of Bristol’s longest standing societies.
Bristol is one of the only Russell Group universities not to offer a ‘pay as you go’ system for sports facility use 2. Students must purchase an annual sports pass to use sports facilities, costing £150 for off peak membership and £250 for peak membership 1. Comparatively, Imperial College London offers unlimited use of its pool and gym for free 3 and Warwick offers students the choice between £49 annual membership or £2.50 pay and play 4. This makes Bristol one of the least accessible universities for sport in the country; doing very little to encourage the university’s attempts to appear as an institute concerned about widening participation.
Hardest hit by these changes are casual users and sports clubs. One example is the Underwater Club, whose members primarily use the pool on a pay as you go basis for essential dive training. Last year, the club carried out training in the evening and ran occasional intensive weekend sessions. Faced with the new pricing structure, members would be forced to pay £250 for annual peak membership. Many clubs are finding it cheaper to abandon university facilities and seek private alternatives; the treasurer of the Life Saving club asserted “Life Saving would lose most of its remaining core members and probably a lot of sign-ups... If possible we will be relocating to a nearby public pool instead”. Unless the university goes back on its decision, the future of many of Bristol's longest standing sports clubs will be in jeopardy.
The new policy defies the will of the overwhelming majority of students, as demonstrated by two motions passed at last year’s UBU AGM. The first sought to introduce more flexibility to the University Sports Pass, stating “students should only have to pay for the facilities they wish to use” 5; the motion passed with 86% majority 6. The second proposed to reduce the cost of using the swimming pool 7 such that it is in line with other swimming pools in Bristol and was passed with 91% majority 6. The new proposals conflict with the motions passed and demonstrate a blatant disregard for student opinion.
The university justifies the sports and activity pass changes as necessary to alleviate pressure on stretched facilities due to increasing student numbers 8. However in October 2011, when reflecting on increasing student numbers, the Vice-Chancellor said “We must maintain our absolute focus on the overall quality of the student experience including ensuring the diversity of the student population” and warned “These objectives are fundamental to what we stand for as an institution and we deviate from these at our peril.” 9. Evidently, the university has lost sight of its commitment to ‘the student experience’ and has resorted to pricing students out of sport.
The University of Bristol comments that the changes provide an “improved system that ensures greater clarity, flexibility and affordability” 8. This comes at a time when the price of annual peak membership has increased from £200 10 to £250 and that the pay as you go system has been abandoned 1. Far from being flexible and affordable, the new policy is expensive, restrictive and elitist.
We, with the full support of the University of Bristol Student’s Union, demand that the university:
- Reintroduce a pay as you go system for sports facilities during both peak and off peak periods.
- Revoke the following stipulation, “It is now mandatory to purchase a Sport & Activity Pass if you intend to play for a University Sports Club which uses University facilities for training and matches” .
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