Manchester rent strike: Students given refund after weeks of protests over coronavirus treatment

Move is likely to pile pressure on other universities to follow suit

Colin Drury
Thursday 26 November 2020 10:38 GMT
University of Manchester students leave the Owens Park Tower after a two-week occupation
University of Manchester students leave the Owens Park Tower after a two-week occupation

Students living in Manchester University’s halls of residences will be given 30 per cent of their rent back following weeks of protests about their treatment during the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of freshers at the university had called for reduced accommodation rates in response to entire courses being moved online and facilities being shut down as a result of the pandemic.

They say they were assured through the summer the university had plans in place to ensure learning would largely go ahead as normal – only for the huge changes to be made once tuition and accommodation fees were paid.

More than 200 went on rent strike, while nine teenagers occupied a landmark block, Owens Park Tower at the Fallowfield Campus, and said they would not move until senior managers addressed the concern.

“They have manipulated us for profit,” one, Chris Adair, a 19-year-old law student, told The Independent. “They have deceived us.”

Now, senior managers have bowed to the pressure and offered four weeks rent-free for semester one – the equivalent of a 30 per cent rebate.

The move will heap pressure on other institutions facing similar, if smaller, protests to follow suit.

Sheffield, Bristol and Newcastle universities have all come under pressure from freshers to reduce rent after huge swathes of teaching was taken online only.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said it was not just Manchester students who were angry and across the country young people felt they were "essentially sold a lie" about what was going to be possible this year.

"It just feels like the government is failing to recognise the levels of student anger and student dissatisfaction with how they've been treated," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

As part of its climbdown, Manchester University said it would maintain its commitment that anyone who does not wish to move back to halls for semester two would not have to pay for the remainder of their year-long contract.

It also promised to work to open up more study and social spaces on campus.

The move was greeted with champagne celebrations by the Owens Park Nine, who left the tower in response.

“This victory would not have been possible without the incredible pressure that was put onto the university's management by the strength of a united movement of students, staff and wider community,” said Mr Adair as he and the other students cracked open the bubbly.

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