By Tom Grant
Student protestors from Manchester Leftist Action and UoM Rent Strike occupied three university buildings overnight on Wednesday 8 February.
The students entered the Samuel Alexander Building and the Engineering Building on Wednesday evening, before entering the John Owens Building early on Thursday morning.
The Twitter accounts of both groups confirmed their occupations are for three different demands and have deliberately coincided this occupation with this week’s strikes by the Universities and Colleges Union.
The groups have asked that the University of Manchester listen to the demands set out by the UCU, as well as demands set out by the Rent Strike group.
Fraser McGuire of UoM Rent Strike said, “I think it is the same struggle [as the UCU strikes]”, when speaking to The Mancunion last week.
“Not only have students been inspired by the industrial action that’s been taken, that shows that collective action can be successful, but we’re also fighting the same battle – the marketisation of higher education […] we’re fighting those treating staff and students as financial assets”.
Kerry, a teaching assistant on the UCU picket lines today said “I and all the people on the picket lines here support the students from the two associations and also hope that their demands are met.”
“Support for our movement is coming from all angles, and it is unprecedented. We just hope that these strikes and occupations do not have to go on for much longer.”
They have also asked that every student is given £1,500 from the University fund to help ensure their government maintenance loan rises with inflation.
It is believed that the students have barricaded themselves in the John Owens Building, which is where the offices of the University leadership team are, including the Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell. The Mancunion understands that the occupiers have made it to the office of the Vice-Chancellor, but do not know whether they have gained access to the room itself.
A spokesperson for the University said:
“We are aware of a small number of individuals gaining unauthorised access to three University-owned buildings overnight. Our primary concern is the health and safety of those people who are currently occupying the buildings.
“We are aware of some doors and entrances being barricaded and locked and are emphasising our concerns for their safety in the event of an emergency incident.
“The normal working of the University is continuing. We continue to monitor the situation carefully.
“We work closely and have a positive dialogue with the Students’ Union, it was this close relationship which helped lead to the £9m Cost of Living support package. We continue to meet regularly.
“We share concerns with students that the recent increase in maintenance loans falls far short of keeping pace with inflation. The situation has of course been exacerbated by the cost of living situation and we are advocating strongly on behalf of our students to see this position change. The Russell Group has made public statements on this topic.”
The University of Manchester Students’ Union spokesperson said:
“As a Students’ Union, we are committed to ensuring that any students taking part in this occupation is properly supported, with access to food, drinks and other support they need. We also want to ensure they are not unfairly penalised by the university or the community for taking this action. The Students’ Union executive officers are meeting with university leaders to discuss the issues that these students have presented.”
Lectures that are due to take place in classrooms in the Samuel Alexander Building have been moved this morning, with the School of Arts, Languages, and Culture sending urgent emails to students and staff regarding their reallocated classrooms.
It is currently understood that the occupiers will be in the buildings indefinitely, meaning that classrooms will continue to be moved and staff will not be able to reach their offices.
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