With post-it notes covering Fallowfield halls windows with messages calling for the University to “unblock porn plz”, blocked websites on University WiFi are a well-known issue.
But a blanket internet sex ban could be causing problems for Manchester University’s first-year students.
The Mancunion can reveal that the Northern Sexual Health Clinic’s booking process is inaccessible when connected to the University WiFi or to Eduroam. Instead of the website, it displays an error message that says: “This site cannot be reached”.
The sexual health clinic’s booking system does, however, work on mobile devices using data, leading students to question why it has been blocked.
The clinic provides vital services to students and residents across the city. With a “free, confidential and friendly service”, dealing with sensitive issues such as STD checks, free contraception, support for sexual assault survivors and counselling.
The University insisted the site wasn’t blocked by the University’s content filtering provider, but due to a technical issue.
We spoke to one first-year student having trouble booking through the site, who wished to remain anonymous.
She told us that it was tricky enough finding help in a new city without the unnecessary stress of being unable to access resources: “It was very frustrating and meant that I had to spend all day on the phone with my busy GP instead to try and get an appointment there.”
She said the experience had made her feel “confused and put-off” and expressed worries that the blocked website may deter other students from getting help.
Young people at the heart of the growing STI crisis, so it is alarming that essential services are restricted under umbrella censoring. Students fear this may contribute to the stigma around seeking support for their sexual health.
This raises troubling questions for the University, especially at a time when the welfare of its students has already been in the national press.
A University spokesperson said: “We’ve reviewed the report about the booking form for the Northern Sexual Health Clinic being inaccessible from the University network. The affected site isn’t blocked by the University’s content filtering provider, however after further investigation with the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust’s network team this week, we have now identified a technical issue which is preventing access from University Wi-Fi.
“It is currently possible to access this particular site if connected to the University network with a network cable, and we’ll continue to work on resolving the issue so that anyone who needs to access the form via Wi-Fi will be able to do so.
“In 2016, the University requested that IT Services applied a network-wide block on websites deemed unacceptable by the Acceptable Use of IT Facilities and Services guidelines.
“This block affects access for any device connected to the network across campus and in halls, and was implemented in June 2016. If a site is blocked, a University-branded screen will be displayed reading “Web page blocked. Access to this web page is restricted by the University’s acceptable usage policy” with additional information.
“However, this block does not apply to websites related to sexual health. If you believe that a website has been blocked incorrectly, please report this via the IT Support Portal.”