Following month-long student protests, the University of Manchester (UoM) authorities finally agreed on November 25, Wednesday, to a 30% rent cut for the first semester of this academic year. Students of the university, under the leadership of UoM Rent Strike and 9K 4 What?, had been protesting against the high rents of the residence halls and insensitive COVID-19 restrictions on campus. They had also occupied Owens Park Tower in the Fallowfield campus of the university since November 12.
On Wednesday, UoM authorities issued a statement agreeing “to give all students in University halls of residences a reduction for the first semester (Sept 2020 – Jan 31, 2021) totalling 30%.”
The rent cut will be available to all students whether they stay in the residence halls over the holiday period or not. The university has also agreed to open up more social and study spaces in the student halls, while keeping COVID-19 guidelines in mind, and to enhance safety and security. The authorities have also assured improvement in the reporting, tracking and resolution of maintenance issues.
Following successful negotiations with the university authorities, the striking students ended the occupation of Owens Park Tower. UoM Rent Strike stated that they have negotiated a 30% rent reduction, which amounts to a payout of £12 million (USD 15.97 million), making this the biggest win for a university rent strike in UK history.
Hannah Philips, one of the protesting UoM students and a member of the Young Communist League of Britain, wrote in Challenge magazine; “fourteen days ago myself and my comrades snuck in through the fire escape door of Owens Park Tower, laundry bags of clothes, pot noodles, and sleeping bags in hand. Today we walk out the front entrance victorious, red smoke flares held high. After two weeks of occupation, the University has finally conceded to our demands.”
“The success of the UoM protest must be a call to action for students across Britain to fight against sky-high fees, extortionate accommodation and inadequate courses,” she added.
UoM students had started their protest last month to draw attention to the spike in COVID-19 infections in the residence halls. They also highlighted the lack of in-person teaching and inadequate support for students in halls during the lockdown. The agitated students pulled down the newly erected fences near student halls in Fallowfield, which were intended to restrict student movement amid the lockdown. The university authorities had earlier threatened the protesting students with fines and other disciplinary actions.
The student community has been among the worst-hit during the second round of COVID-19 spike in the UK due to lack of concrete action by the universities and the right-wing Tory government. Various student and youth groups, including the National Union of Students and the Young Communist League of Britain, have registered strong protests against the precarious conditions experienced by students in universities. Various initiatives like the 9K 4 WHAT? campaign were also taken up recently by university students who are dissatisfied with the lack of services even after paying around 9,000 pounds as fees for this semester which has been marred by COVID-19.