Manchester students have barricaded themselves inside a university building to protest being charged full fees despite coronavirus putting paid to their first term.
The 15 students, who are predominately freshers, insisted they have enough supplies to ‘occupy’ the top floor of Owens Park tower in Fallowfield for several weeks.
Yesterday afternoon they lit smoke flares and draped banners from the windows of the accommodation bloc, which the University of Manchester said is usually empty but off-limits to the students.
The protesters are requesting meeting with the university’s vice chancellor, Dame Nancy Rothwell, and have demanded a reduction to rent and tuition.
The 15 students, who are predominately freshers, insisted they have enough supplies to ‘occupy’ the top floor of Owens Park tower in Fallowfield for several weeks
Yesterday afternoon they set off smoke flares and draped banners from the windows of the accommodation bloc
Police and private security in front of the occupied Owens Park Tower at the University of Manchester’s campus
Face-to-face classes have been scrapped, students have been confined to their accommodation and unable to use communal areas, and have now been asked to vacate their halls for most of December following Government guidance.
Ben McGowan, 18, said this watered-down university experience should translate into a discount in fees.
The politics and sociology student said: ‘We want a discount on the rent because of what’s happened this term, in terms of that facilities that meant to be covered by rent, things like common rooms – we’ve not got access.
‘I think December should be wiped off when we’re not in. The entire campus is shut down, the cost of uni upkeep must be down, there’s no justification for the full fees.’
Students have been asked to pay around £1,500 on average for their rooms in Fallowfield halls of residence.
Mr McGowan revealed up to 200 other students have refused to pay their full rent for the autumn term.
Hs said: ‘The campaign has really ramped up in the last few weeks but the Uni has essentially just ignored us.
‘They said they were going to fine us 3 per cent extra per day that we didn’t pay the rent.
‘Then they sent this email saying they could kick us off our course, although they can’t. We’ve tried to have a meeting and they’ve just refused. ‘
In a letter sent to Prof Rothwell, the students suggested a discount of 40 per cent for the 2020/21 year.
A banner draped out of the window reads ‘this is an occupied building’
Mr McGowan also said students had been forced to endure horrendous living conditions.
‘We’ve had appalling accommodation conditions ranging from flooding to leaks and rat infestations.
‘We have a severely under resourced mental health support network even though mental health amongst students has never been more dire.’
He said that the university’s decision to erect fences around campus last week saw anger among students reach a ‘boiling point’.
Manchester students tore down the fences outside their campus in Fallowfield, prompting a climbdown by the university which apologised for causing ‘distress’.
Manchester students tore down the fences outside their campus in Fallowfield, prompting a climbdown by the university which apologised for causing ‘distress’
Mr McGowan says students barricaded inside Owens Park tower are maintaining social distancing and do not believe they are doing anything illegal.
He said: ‘We got in without breaking anything. The security must have noticed around midday – the place is surrounded now, there is university security guards on every door.
‘We’ve had a conversation with security – we’ve made it clear that we are legally protected, there’s not much they can to get rid of us.
‘We’re not doing anything illegal to my knowledge. Police did turn up earlier – they just stood outside the door for a while then left, they never came to speak to us.’
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of the protest by a handful of students in an empty residential building.
‘We have made it clear to them that they shouldn’t be there and that they may also be in contravention of current national Health Protection Regulations.
‘We are already engaging with elected Students’ Union representatives about many of the issues being highlighted by the protestors.
‘The University is fully committed to freedom of expression.’