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21st October 2020

“It’s time to organise and get involved”: Meet the students making campus SAFER

Rent strikes, better crisis plans and ensuring staff safety: What are SAFER doing to help students through the coronavirus?
“It’s time to organise and get involved”: Meet the students making campus SAFER
Photo by Eliza Lewis (Instagram:Lizalewiss)

A student-led group called ‘SAFER’ (Student Action for a Fair and Educated Response) are campaigning for increased support for UoM’s 40,000 students and 12,000 staff.

They are asking for increased safety measures and a reduction of tuition and accommodation fees.

This comes just weeks after it was revealed that Fallowfield had the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. So far, over 1,000 Manchester students have contracted the virus.

The Mancunion spoke with SAFER to find out more about their aims.

UoM students protesting
Photo by Eliza Lewis (Instagram:Lizalewiss)

‘Stability: That a partial reimbursement of tuition fees is provided to current students at UoM’

SAFER’s first aim reflects the calls of many students to reassess current annual tuition fees of £9,250.

The group cites the Open University, which exclusively offers online tuition, offering £6,192 as a more appropriate figure. Most students are now studying exclusively online.

Many are disillusioned by unsatisfactory online learning. According to an article in The Guardian, experts suspect that institutions are unfairly clinging to student populations.

Universities have been accused of “keeping students at all costs” until after the term cut-off date. After this date, students are required to pay half their annual tuition fees even if they leave the university.

The elephant-in-the-socially-distanced-room, however, is the issue of accommodation fees. Thousands of students are paying up to £160 per week to study from their halls.

A spokesperson for The Marxist Society told The Mancunion they advocate building a network of hall representatives to co-ordinate rent strikes.

“The NUS have already stated they would support rent strikes where they could.”

Citing the large proportion of income generated from accommodation fees, the Marxist spokesperson added: “It’s time to organise and it’s time to get involved. The government had to persuade students to travel to university and the university had to accept them or the flimsy business models they are based on would simply collapse.”

The Marxist Society suggest that the pandemic has exposed the failure of monetising education: “The problem of marketisation is rooted in capitalism.”

‘Safety: That a crisis plan is created should another situation similar to that of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic arise again’

SAFER has also highlighted that student and staff health and academic progress may be compromised in the “mishandling” of the pandemic.

SAFER doubt the suitability of the current assistance to students isolating in halls of residence. Not to mention the provisions made for disabled students learning from home.

'Fighting for academic, financial and physical safety'.
Photo by Eliza Lewis (Instagram: Lizalewiss)

It was reported in the Manchester Evening News that the University of Manchester were unable to provide enough ‘buddies’ to aid self-isolating students. These students were then reportedly advised to send out an asymptomatic flatmate to collect groceries.

‘SUPPORT: That a new staff plan is created’

Concerns have also been expressed over the wellbeing of cleaning staff in university accommodation, with the representative body UNISON alleging that campus support staff were clocking up astronomical deep-cleaning and catering hours with little extra support.

Advocating an end to fixed-term staff contracts and backing risk assessments for all staff, SAFER also believe the pandemic has exposed the failure of universities to support their staff.

Last year, pay, pensions and working conditions were the focal point of picket-lines in Manchester and across the UK.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Vice-Chancellor Dame Professor Nancy Rothwell announced voluntary pay cuts and redundancies in response to the financial challenge posed by the crisis.

SAFER is encouraging both students and staff, however, to assess UoM’s ongoing approach to the pandemic.

Their appeal regarding tuition and accommodation fees is available to read and students are invited to sign it to indicate their support.

You can follow SAFER on Instagram and Facebook.

Information about rent strikes can be found on Instagram at @uomrentstrike and at The Manchester Marxist Society’s Facebook page.

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