On November 12, Thursday, students of the University of Manchester (UoM) occupied Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield Campus of the university protesting the insensitivity of the university authorities towards the students who are in distress due to COVID-19. The occupation was led by UoM Rent Strike, alongside the campaign group 9K 4 WHAT? They were protesting the extremely high rent and lack of support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students have accused the university of “putting profits before students.”
The UK is one of the countries which is seeing yet another spike in COVID-19 cases. The student community has been among the worst hit due to the lack of concrete action by governments and universities for their relief. Various student/ youth groups have already registered strong protests against the precarious conditions experienced by students in universities.
The students of the UoM also initiated protests since last month highlighting the spike in COVID-19 infections in halls, the lack of face-to-face teaching, and inadequate support for students in halls during lockdown. According to reports, during last week, the agitated students pulled down newly erected fences near student halls in Fallowfield intended to restrict student movement due to lockdown. The students have said that the authorities have threatened the protesting students with fines and other disciplinary actions. The protesting students reiterated that they will not end the occupation until the university authorities properly address the student’s grievances.
The campaign group 9K 4 WHAT? said that “students have been left behind in this pandemic: forced into cramped overpriced accommodation, blamed for our government’s failings, and paying extortionate university fees for substandard online learning”.
The campaign group has demanded (1) reimbursement of the first semester rent for university accommodation, (2) adequate living conditions for students – repairs to be carried out immediately, (3) priority testing for students on campus, (4) better provision for mental health services for students, (5) partial reimbursement of first semester tuition fees, (6) more transparency and communication between university bosses, staff and students, (7) a say in decisions that affect students and (8) an end to the marketization of education.
The 9K 4 WHAT? campaign started recently among UK university students who are dissatisfied with university services across the UK even after paying 9000 pounds for this semester which has been affected by COVID-19.
UoM Rent Strike’ has demanded “a rent reduction of at least 40%, for the remainder of the academic year 2020-21, offer all students no-penalty early release clauses from their tenancy contracts, for both this and next academic years and increase the standard of support for students in Halls of Residence, this includes; Food, laundry and post for isolating flats; better security; faster responses to complaints about standards of living e.g. broken fridges”.
The Manchester committees of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Communist League (YCL)-Britain have expressed their solidarity and extended support to the protesting students of Manchester University.