A group of University of Manchester students, organising as UoM Rent Strike, are threatening the university with a widespread rent strike if demands around student safety are not met.
This announcement follows a protest in Owens Park last Friday, where up to 100 students from the Fallowfield campus came together to protest against the university’s treatment of isolating and Covid-positive freshers.
More protests are planned, the next to be held on Friday 16 October at 2pm, outside University Place on Oxford Road.
Fallowfield has become a Covid-19 ground-zero, with students apparently making up the vast majority of cases.
There is a renewed anger at both the government for encouraging the move back to university, and at university management for failing to prepare for the return of students to campuses.
In a statement released on Tuesday, UoM Rent Strike demanded:
- A rent reduction of at least 40% for the remainder of the academic year 2020-2021
- To offer all students no-penalty early release clauses from their tenancy contracts, for both this and next academic years
- Increase the standard of support for the students in Halls of Residence
The group has argued that in addition to missing out on valuable learning resources from the move to online learning, living conditions over the last few weeks have been inadequate, with “floods, pests, broken fridges/freezers, lack of hot water, broken cooking facilities, and numerous break-ins”.
They also argue that “This is coupled with completely inadequate isolation support.” Many students have reported having little to mental health support throughout their time in halls. A number of those who have had to self-isolate reported having no access to food – some were even told to put a mask on and go to Sainsbury’s, despite testing positive with the virus.
“Overall,” argue UoM Rent Strike, “the preparation and response to the halls’ situation has been unacceptable… we are therefore demanding compensation and are willing to go on rent strike until these demands are met.”
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “All students have an informed choice as to whether to study in person in Manchester. The UK Government advice for Greater Manchester, is that students are strongly encouraged to remain in their current accommodation and not return to their family home or other residential accommodation.
“If in exceptional circumstances students wish to return home for a period and no longer require their University accommodation, we will work with them to make sure they can safely leave the campus. Details of how to do this were emailed to all halls residents on 9 October 2020.
“We have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, which includes a partnership with a major food retailer, delivery of parcels, wellbeing support, and assistance with practical matters such as arranging for laundry and prescription medicines. All students have been sent this information which includes clear guidance on the circumstances under which they are able to leave their accommodation whilst self-isolating.
“We continue to provide support for all students in our halls of residence, and students can contact their local ResLife team for help and advice, at any time.”