Many were disheartened when SAFER announced that tonight’s halls protest against UoM’s “unfair” tuition fees would have to be held from windows as a result of police threats, but Fallowfield got creative.
The banging of wooden spoons against frying pans began prematurely at 7:55 pm as students took to the streets around Oak House, disobeying SAFER’s suggestions that they stay inside, but it was not long before four riot vans full of police, alongside UoM security services, intervened, threatening students with fines if they didn’t clear the area.
Police were threatening fines not in response to the protest itself, but on the grounds of Covid restrictions, which, under national lockdown provisions, prohibit the gathering of large crowds. Most students wore masks and kept socially distanced.
All crowds had been dispersed by 8:40, as police ushered students back into their blocks, but the protestors still made a statement in a short amount of time.
“I’m protesting against the fact that we’ve got to pay a full year’s rent despite the fact we’re being turfed out in December and we haven’t got access to all the facilities we normally would,” said one Oak House resident, who wishes to remain anonymous. “They’ve encouraged us to come and then they’ve acted like we’re villains for being here.”
Another flatmate added: “They promised us blended teaching that nobody ever got,” his flatmate said. “The only people going into uni are those doing dissections, that’s it.”
The protest happened in conjunction with an occupation of Owen’s Park Tower, which is still continuing. Occupants could be seen taunting a UoM security officer who was guarding the door.
“The University is treating students as money machines, as piggy banks that they can take £9,000 from and expect them to shut up about how they’re being treated,” another said.
“There’s been no blended learning even though they insist on calling it blended learning. It’s not blended learning, it’s online learning.”
In response to SAFER’s demands, a University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We fully understand that these are challenging and difficult times for our students.
“During the pandemic we have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, this includes a partnership with a major food retailer, support on wellbeing and other practical matters.
“Extensive and varied mental health services are available for students. They include access to Togetherall – a 24/7 service for mental support, and a UK-first mental health centre for students which is run with the NHS. Next week we will be running a major mental health and wellbeing campaign.
“This will again highlight the extensive support already in place, introduce a new out-of-hours mental health service and give all students the opportunity to tell us what they are struggling with and suggest enhancements to how we can support them.
“Following recent feedback, next week we will also be announcing increased support for students in halls of residence, with additional online and on-site advice and support available.
“Our University believes in transparency and we publish information about how fees are spent on our website.
“We want to hear students’ ideas for improving safety on our campus sites and we would ask you to write to [email protected] with your suggestions.”
Photos by Antonio Ross