The University of Bristol is a University in, well, Bristol. According to the website, it was founded as University College, Bristol (some plaque stones remain testament to this on some very old buildings) in 1876. It claims it was the first institution in Britain to accept men and women in equal standing. CatherineB informs me that University College London makes the same boast. I can neither confirm nor deny which institution was first. I'm not that old. Now that the introductions are over, here's my own thoughts on the place. Do message me if you'd like to see something else added.

Physical properties

The University is what is known as a "city" University; it has no main campus. It buys up properties based in and around Clifton. The most striking piece of architecture is the Wills Memorial Building, built in the 1920s (although it looks much older) by the children of a one Sir William Wills. It is a cathedral-like structure, awe-inspiring on first entrance; the ceiling rises about 4 storeys upwards. It houses Earth Sciences and Law. Being primarily built out of stone, the hall gets very cold very quickly. Next door is the 1996 built Merchant Venturers Building. Although officially a Faculty of Engineering building, in actuality it only plays host to Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. This is the newest building in the University and is actually very nice and modern. The roof above the lobby is a curved glass surface and many an idle minute can be spent watching the rain run down it. You know, when you’re supposed to be in lectures and such.

The University owns a whole street of houses which have been converted for office and teaching use (imaginatively titled University Road), and a couple of 1950s concrete Behemoths which people generally don’t like to talk about. Physics is inside one of these high-rise buildings, which enveloped a much older gothic style building. It always makes your heart sink to see such a nice church-esque building blighted by a mound of concrete. If you ever go to the Powell lecture theatre, take a look out for the Physics alumni photo wall. There’s a strange looking chap called Emmett Brown there.

The most disturbing building you can ever work in is the old Bristol Children’s Hospital. The BCH moved to new, far more capable accommodation a few years ago. The Uni needed some temporary floor space so bought one of the old buildings. I have the sheer horror of having to work there on occasion. As you sit down on their dodgy chairs, you can only think about how many children can have died in the ward. The only attempt to redecorate involves a few posters of aeroplanes dotted about, so you’re left with the sterile walls adorned with copyright-infringing Disney characters watching as you try and get through some logical mathematics. Along the wall at shoulder-length height is one of those silver beams where all the cables and such were run through. There is a headphone jack for Radio Lollipop at one point along the beam, but I haven’t been able to pick up BURST (Bristol University Radio Station) through it yet. There is also a very large red button that cries out to be pressed. You eventually give in, hit it and then shut your eyes as you await the imminent doom. Nothing happens. It may be wired to the new BCH where it alerts a nurse. Who would then say “Bloody students.” Possibly.

Most of the Halls of Residence are located across the other side of the Bristol Downs (large park), a good 40 minute uphill walk from the Uni. The annoyance this distance causes when it’s raining and you overslept cannot be understood until it actually happens to you. The bus, once you factor in the time you wait for it, ends up being no faster (but a lot less effort!)

Relationship to the Outside

Bristol is one of the most popular Universities in the UK, with around 12 applications per place. It is also the fourth oldest in England (thanks deadstillstanding!) behind Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. This stands it in pretty good stead as being “A Good Place To Be.” The entrance requirements are not easy, I would hazard a guess that all courses demand at least one A at A-Level. Currently the University is involved in a new system of “positive discrimination” to pupils from state schools, offering them lower grade boundaries than those from public (means private in England. I have no idea why!) schools. Of course the independent schools are in uproar, but they always kick up a fuss when the status quo is disrupted. The scheme is a drastic attempt to shake off it’s image as being a haven for Oxbridge rejects and rich, sheltered students. Whilst it’s true that there are a fair proportion of students who are very posh, that would also be applicable to all top-flight Unis. You just need to know how to avoid them; which in the main is very easy seeing as they would only make up about 20% of the students at the very most.

The students have a large rivalry going on with UWE (located on the Bristol outskirts), in a very East Coast/West Coast futile hatred style. Everyone needs someone to look down on. UWE live to think that they are the all-round cooler types who could kick our arse at sport any day of the week, Bristol reckon UWE are a bunch of slackers who couldn’t get the grades to come to Bristol. Neither is true, of course, but it’s fun anyway. Of course, you’ll get UWE spouting stuff saying that they were better rated in such and such a league table, whereas Bristol is rated better in one of the others. I think it’s generally thought that Bristol is the more academic institution, whereas UWE is a vocationally driven place, so it really depends on what you want from Uni. <obligatory Bristol student statement>Except everyone really knows Bristol are better and UWE students can’t accept it.</Bristol student>

What’s good

  • The teaching is rated excellent for a great many departments, I believe all departments at least achieved "satisfactory" in the last review.
  • The city is your friend. Being located in the city doesn’t tie you down to the same place every single day, you can choose where to eat and go shopping between lectures with ease.
  • The way you can pretend you’re somewhere really old and stately when the Wills Memorial Building bell rings at the hour.
  • The city is one of the most vibrant in the UK, so much so it’s making a bid for European City of Culture 2008 (I don’t know why they’re bothering. Perhaps they get a nice plaque or something). The clubs are jumping, the shopping is good (lots of niche shops mixed in with the big names) and the large amount of students when coupled up with UWE means there are a lot of student-orietated club nights (high drinking, low prices) and reductions in stores.

What’s bad

  • The city set up of the University is also your enemy. There is no central meeting place, exacerbated by the fact the Union building is 10 minutes walk from the main teaching area, so few students actually go there during the day. There is no large expanse of grass to sit in and just talk. You just walk from building to building along normal roads. You get the overwhelming feeling of having no identity because of this. Unless you buy one of the pretentious “Bristol University” hooded jumpers, as if to tell everyone who looks at it and isn’t a student that you’re cleverer than them.
  • The distance of the halls. Are you feeling a bit frustrated now? That’s because I’m so annoyed about walking home in the rain that it’s being psychically transmitted to you.
  • The University doesn’t like students bringing cars, yet refuses to create a secure lock-up for your bicycle.
  • Apparently housing is quite expensive when you live out of halls. Clifton is the nicest and most desirable place to live in Bristol, so I wouldn’t doubt that they’re expensive.

Should I go firm/insurance with UCAS?

Come if you like the course. If you like the course, you’ll get over the other problems. If you hate the course, it’s all going to pile up. This is what I would say when you’re thinking about any University. You cannot spend 3 or 4 years of your life doing something you don’t like. Don’t just think about the subject. Computer Science, for example, comes in many different flavours: Warwick seems to like a lot of Maths, Bristol less so. Go to the Open Days, get a feeling for the place. You’ll know whether you can live and work here or not. Just make sure you like the course.

Like. The. Course.

Staple it to your forehead, tattoo it under your eyelids. I don’t care. Just make sure you remember when you put down your final desicion on the UCAS form.

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