Students at the University of Manchester have continued to protest against the university’s handling of the coronavirus crisis on campus.
Their action follows the University’s decision to erect fences around accommodation blocks without notice, and the recent alleged racial profiling and harassment of student, Zac Adan by University security guards.
Hundreds of students turned out for a peaceful protest on 16 November in response. The security guards involved have since been suspended, and University Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell issued an apology after falsely claiming in a BBC Newsnight interview that she had written to Adan personally.
Student action group ‘UoM Rent Strike’ are occupying Owen’s tower on the Fallowfield campus at the university. One of the occupiers, Lucy Nichols told Forge Press that the decision to occupy was “a last resort” after seeing fences put up around accommodation blocks.
“After months of protesting against the University’s treatment of its students; the poor quality accommodation, a lack of mental health support, and the extortionate tuition fees, it felt like nothing was going anywhere,” she said.
“The fences showed an astonishing neglect of the University’s duty of care, but also demonstrated just how angry students were. ”
The group, who have been occupying the building for almost two weeks, are demanding that the University meet with them, commit to no more staff redundancies until the end of the pandemic and to agree that no students participating in the occupation or rent strike will face penalties.
The group is also part of the ‘9k 4 WHAT? MCR’ campaign, who are demanding a 40% reduction in rent, partial reimbursement of tuition fees, better mental health care for students, and better living standards in university accommodation.
Nichols described the response from the University so far as “frustrating to say the least.”
While university management have met with student representatives and the Students’ Union, occupiers are disappointed that the Vice-Chancellor has not agreed to a meeting yet.
Although the University has agreed to a 5% reduction in accommodation fees for two weeks, ‘UoM Rent Strike’ are optimistic that they’ll achieve their main demand of a 40% reduction in rent fees due to widespread support for the campaign.
Nichols said: “It’s been so fantastic hearing from people all over the country who are supporting us. It’s also been great to have so much support from students here in Fallowfield, who have been dropping off food, waving at us through windows
“I think one of the main reasons we’ve been able to keep doing what we’re doing is because of the ridiculous amount of support we’ve had from people literally all over the country.”
Students have received letters of solidarity from University of Manchester alumni and staff. Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South, tweeted her support of the occupation and students “standing up to unfair rents and the behaviour of management”, and Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, has met virtually with the occupiers to listen to their concerns.
The University of Manchester has been contacted for comment.
Image: UoM Rent Strike