Student rent strike success as University of Manchester agrees rent reduction

Student protestors at the University of Manchester have secured a 30% rent reduction for their first term.

This will cost the university £12 million, making it the biggest concession in UK student rent strike history.

Another rent strike is also planned for January, with no sign of momentum slowing.

Activists occupied Owens Park and staged protests throughout this term.

The demands of protesters were:

  1. A rent reduction of 40%
  2. Improvement of living conditions and support
  3. No penalty early release clauses
  4. No staff redundancies during the pandemic, for the university to maintain consistent contact with the UCU
  5. No penalties for students involved in the rent strike or tower occupation

Students felt as though they had been lured to campus with false reassurances of in person lessons.

Since most lessons are currently online, the vast majority are stuck in a year long contract for accommodation they don’t need to be in.

Many had serious complaints about halls accommodation particularly, and said problems reported to maintenance fell on deaf ears.

Over the weekend, this led to the fire brigade being called after students were trapped inside a residential building.

There have been reports of leaks and other issues in halls which made accommodation unliveable: broken fridges, dirty running water, pest infestations, very poor provisions for those isolating, prison-like fencing to pen the students in, and even, tragically, a suicide.

Larissa Kennedy, President of the NUS told Newsnight: “Universities are risking student safety, they are risking community safety because they are run like businesses.”

It’s not just students feel let down – it’s staff too.

Cleaners say they have been sent into Covid-positive flats by mistake, and haven’t had sufficient access to PPE throughout.

Action was organised largely through social media platforms.

Throughout the occupation, they were inundated with solidarity in the form of food and gifts, from fellow students, activist groups and unions.

Surplus food was even sent to local food banks.

So far, Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester has refused to meet with activists, prompting the student body to trigger a vote of no confidence in her.

Universities across the UK are facing the prospect of rent strikes, and a huge surge in student activism more generally.

Vicky Blake, UCU President, said: “We’re learning from each other, across trade union and activist movements, how to do something positive that helps bring people together.

“It’s quite an organic thing, and I think it shows how bad the situation is that people have been moved to organise in this way. But it also shows that there’s some hope.”

The movement pin points the higher education reforms of the David Cameron years for cutting higher education funding and making universities so financially reliant on halls rent and tuition fee extraction.

Student organisation on this scale hasn’t been seen since the Occupy movement, which had it’s tenth anniversary this month.

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