Bristol University students sent to SS Great Britain as study spaces run out

SOURCE: Shutterstock
Bristol University is facing overcrowding problems.

By U2B Staff 

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Overcrowding at Bristol University has reached a new level – students are being offered study spaces at the SS Great Britain for the January exam period.

According to reports, an email from the university’s history department before the Christmas break a few weeks ago made the offer, saying those in need of a quiet place to revise can reserve desks at the site in Bristol harbour where the Isambard Kingdon Brunel’s steamship is docked, over a mile away from campus.

“For this coming January exam period, the SS Great Britain would like to offer Bristol University 2nd and 3rd-year history students exclusive use of the Foyle Reading Room, which is on the mezzanine floor in the David MacGregor Library in the Brunel Institute,” reads the email according to Bristol Live.

“We would like to offer the space to history students from 6th January to the 24th January, Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm. We can provide a quiet space to work, onsite wifi and storage areas for bags/coats, etc.

“Food or drink aren’t allowed in the library, just bottled water, however, our café will provide the equivalent of a staff discount to Bristol University students when here. When you arrive onsite please ask at reception.”

study spaces
Students can book desks at the SS Great Britain. Source: Shutterstock

Rapid expansion at the university in recent years has been blamed for rising reports of overcrowding, with shared study spaces in main campus libraries often fully occupied, and students having to queue from as early as 7am to book themselves a desk.

Last summer, students complained that library study spaces were all snapped up shortly after 8am when doors opened.

“In my first year you could get to the library at 8am in exam season, basically January and May, and find a desk by 8am with no problem, and it would be full by 11am. But this [past] year, by 8.30am every library place was taken,” student Cameron Scheijde was quoted in The Guardian as saying.

Bristol University has expanded aggressively since the introduction of the £9,000 limit on annual tuition fees in 2012, and the government’s removal of its recruitment cap in 2015.

According to The Guardian, enrollments at the university increased by over 30 percent between the 2012-13 and 2018-19 academic years, going from 18,000 to nearly 24,000. 

Of course, as its student body grows, there are plans in the pipeline to meet the expanding need for more shared study spaces.

study spaces at Bristol University
An artist’s impression of the new university library. Source: Bristol University

A new library is being planned for the university’s central campus – an £80 million structure that will offer 2,000 new study spaces and house some 420,000 books and 70,000 journals.

The university, however, has yet to apply for planning permissions for the facility, which will only be completed in 2023-2024.


But according to Scheijde who graduated last summer, the university’s problems with overcrowding aren’t just confined to library study spaces.

“It was in classes as well,” he said. “In my first year, seminars had eight to 10 students; by my third year, it was up to 30. When seminars are that big you can’t contribute much. I liked my lecturers, they were good and they knew what they were talking about. But there was definitely less one-to-one [contact] as time went on.”

Commenting on the purported space shortage, a spokesperson for the university said:

“We appreciate that study spaces are always in high demand in the run-up to exams and we encourage our students to make use of all the study spaces available including our libraries which run extended opening hours.

“For history students, the school has been able to offer additional study space in the Brunel Institute on Bristol Harbourside, which is in close proximity to the main campus.

“Students can always check availability of all study spaces across the University online:

Bristol University is growing its physical footprint. Its new £300 million Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus near the Temple Meads railway station in the city is expected to open its doors in 2023 and accommodate some 3,000 students and 800 staff members.