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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Caitlin Griffin

Why University of Manchester students are protesting and barricading buildings with furniture

Students at the University of Manchester have entered their second full day protesting on the grounds of the university. Since February 8, they have taken over a number of buildings on campus and are hanging flags out the window that read “UoM puts profit over students and workers.”

But why have they done this and what are they hoping to achieve?

READ MORE: The worrying reality of the cost of living crisis on Manchester's students

This ‘lockdown’ follows last month's rent strike protest by students to highlight extreme rent prices during the cost of living crisis.

Students in the John Owens building say they have locked or barricaded every entrance with furniture, stopping security from entering the building.

Hundreds of students gathered to announce that they would be withholding rent amid claims they've had to work full-time jobs while undergoing full-time degrees and have no other option but to use food banks to make ends meet.

Among their demands include receiving a partial refund from the university (Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News)

Students also raised the issue that what they are paying for does not match the conditions of the accommodation they are renting.

For the 2022 academic year, rent in halls increased by up to £450 while the university itself is making over £119m a year.

Currently, the MEN has estimated there are about 50 students occupying three university buildings, understood to be the Engineering building, the Samuel Alexander building, and the 'high security' senior management John Owens buildings - where President and Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell is located.

Other signs outside the building say: "We demand affordable rent. Nancy earns £260k,” and "This building is occupied. Students are not cash cows."

They are calling for the heads of the university to meet their demands for lower rent, for the university to offer a 30 per cent cut on monthly payments, and refund some fees already paid to help with the affordability of rent for the rest of the year.

The occupations have been coordinated to coincide with the demands of the current industrial action by the UCU which began on February 9.

In a tweet that was put out by @rentstrikeUoM it said:

“38 hours into the occupations, and we are holding out strong!

“John Owens is still locked down, no university staff or security have been able to gain access yet. MECD & Sam Alex are open to students, so come join one of our workshops or drop by to have a chat today!”

They also listed their demands saying, “UoM must give in to the rent strike demands… give each student a £1,500 to keep up with the maintenance loan in line with inflation… give in to the UCU demands.”

The account also added that “action will continue indefinitely.”

A spokesperson from the group of protestors has told the MEN: "We have not had any formal response from the university, but our specific demands and arguments have been presented directly to management by our SU. We are being regularly updated on the stance of the university, and we are ready to respond to an offer at any time."

A student occupying one of the buildings has told the M.E.N on Thursday that they plan to stay for as long as they 'feasibly can.'

"We came in yesterday, in the early evening. We will stay as long as we feasibly can," they said. "We have security trying to break into the building. We have other buildings occupied and we will hold on as long as possible. We will have action ongoing."

When asked why they are occupying university buildings, the student said: "One is the way the uni is treating staff and students like courses of income. For students it’s the rent. The uni has always been increasing the Halls’ rent above inflation.

"That’s why the uni partly has a £120 million surplus. We have a cost of living crisis and inflation [yet they have] increased rent by £450 per year without the grant going up. I have to work two jobs to afford uni. (This affects my studies)

"Across the three buildings we have 50 people occupying. We are able to secure the entrances and exits and the windows. We have barricades made out of cabinets and tables and chairs.

"We currently have the entire building on lockdown. No person is able to get access to the building. The security have been trying very hard to get in. We can definitely stay for 24 hours. Security are trying to force entry — it’s only by people pushing back on the barriers they’ve stopped."

A spokesperson for the University of Manchester said that they are aware of "a small number of individuals gaining unauthorised access to three University-owned buildings overnight. Our primary concern is the health and safety of those people who are currently occupying the buildings.

"We are aware of some doors and entrances being barricaded and locked and are emphasising our concerns for their safety in the event of an emergency incident. The normal working of the University is continuing. We continue to monitor the situation carefully."


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