Words by Luke Thomson

A group of nine students at the University of Manchester have finished their occupation of the recently decommissioned Owens Park Tower building. They were there since 12 November in hopes of better treatment and communication from the university management.

On 25 November the University of Manchester announced there would be a 30% cut in the rent fees for students’ accommodation. This will be for just the first half of the academic year.

In total the rent reductions come to £3 million, the largest ever amount deducted after a rent protest of this type.  

Following the move, Uni management also declared that they would attempt to safely open up places for study, further ensure checks on security, and also try and communicate with students to create a “community pledge” 

Both the occupants of the tower, as well as the wider rent strike group have ended their campaigns after the decision.  

The students are part of the wider protest group 9k4what, advocating the fees for universities be lowered. They managed to get by thanks to stable facilities as well as homemade meals dropped off by supporters.

One student was particularly vocal. A selection of photos posted on twitter by Ben McGowan stated that the university had threatened his rent striking with “extortionate fines” and had outright refused to talk to him. Such allegations have been dropped since the result.

Not all public figures of authority around the Uni opposed the students’ actions. Some teachers gave approval of the move and local MP Afzal Khan implored for the Uni to cooperate. 

During the protests, media workers at the Independent were denied access by armed security guarding the building, and no attempts were made to reach out to the students until last Wednesday when the result was announced.

The protest followed the events of 5 November where large fencing was erected around Fallowfield Campus without any notifications to students. The students responded by tearing down the barriers.

The University responded to the outrage by apologising for the lack of talking to students and have dedicated a better reaching out scheme. Thankfully, they have fulfilled such a pledge it seems. 

Students have also attacked the University for its general lack of communication in this period as well as poor attitudes to student mental health.This is in relation to the death of a 19-year-old student on campus, which – according to Sky News – has created a sense of fear and dread for everyone’s well being.

Another case that contributed to the strikes and outrage at Manchester is a racial profiling incident that occurred on 13 November.

First year student Zac Adan was pinned up against a wall by security officers and asked for proof of ID. According to the student, the only justification they gave for this was that he “looked like a drug dealer”.

On 19 November, Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell spoke to BBC Newsnight about the event, to which, on live television, she falsely claimed that she had spoken to Zac personally for the incident.

Just the morning after Rothwell was quick to come clean for the lie, telling the Guardian that “I realised that one of the things I said in that interview, with good intent, was, in fact, incorrect”.

Aside from this, the University of Manchester responded to the incident by suspending the officers in question and launching an investigation into the incident as a whole.

Students at the University, both in the protest at the tower, and the Uni as a whole, have expressed  grievances over the lack of in-person teaching given out.

This is especially upsetting considering the promises given by the Uni of having at the very least a mixed learning experience, yet no later than one week into term going back on that promise.

Authorities at the Uni responded to these points by declaring that nobody could have seen a second lockdown occurring, despite the fact the decision was made a month before the lockdown was announced.

Rent strikes have also occurred at both Bristol and Glasgow, and after the second Lockdown ends, students at Sheffield and Newcastle have promised more “direct” protests in regards to the situation and this great result is surely only added motivation.

Picture Credit: Mike Peel

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