Housing campaigners across Greater Manchester have condemned the treatment of students by the University of Manchester as “abhorrent” and “totally unacceptable”.
An open letter signed by over 90 individuals and organisations, including GM Housing Action, GM Tenants Union and ACORN community union, has expressed solidarity with the students occupying Owens Park Tower student residences, which are part of the Fallowfield Campus of the University of Manchester.
The students are protesting against the university’s treatment of students and staff during the pandemic and are calling for improved housing conditions for students. The occupation of Owens Tower is also accompanied by a rent-strike by students, with reports of 215 students withholding over £300,000 in rent. The open letter states the signees “unequivocally support” student calls for reduced rents, more flexible tenancy contracts and improved standards of support for students and staff at the University (see end of article for the full text of the open letter).
The Fallowfield campus was also the site of widely reported student demonstrations on the 5 November by students protesting against being fenced into the campus by security fences. The fences were torn down by the students, and Dame Nancy Rothwell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester, had to “sincerely apologise for the concern and distress caused by the erecting of a fence around our Fallowfield Halls of Residence.”
Accusations of racial profiling against students by security guards following the fencing demonstration led to the guards being suspended and another apology being issued by the university.
In response to the occupation and rent strike the university published a five point accommodation pledge on Tuesday. The first point offers a reduction in rent, stating:
“There will be a reduction of two weeks’ rent for all students in our accommodation. This is equivalent to around 20% rent reduction for the remaining ten weeks of Semester 1. This will be applied to your next payment taken in January 2021.”
The pledge also agrees to provide more flexible tenancy agreements, better maintenance of residences and improved study facilities.
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A statement released by the University of Manchester Rent Strike group and the Tower Occupiers in response to the university’s pledge said that the rent rebate offer only amounted to 5-6% of students rent for the entire year, and went on to say:
“Rent Strike UoM have been consistent since the beginning of our campaign that we demand a 40% rent reduction in rent. We have consistently been prevented from meeting with the University’s senior leadership team to discuss this…
“A two-week rent reduction does not do justice for the fact that thousands of students are cooped up in overpriced accommodation that do not meet acceptable standards with health and safety issues like pests, burst pipes, missing utilities and the list could go on.”
The statement went on to say that the students believed their demands had not been met by the university’s pledge and that they would:
“…be continuing our occupation until they are met, and we will also be escalating our campaign by calling for an extension of the rent strike in January, which we expect will be taken up by many students.
“We would welcome any contact from the University’s Senior Leadership Team in relation to this statement… We do not wish to occupy the Tower any longer than we have to.”
The full text of the open letter supporting the student Tower Occupiers and Rent Strike group is included below:
Dear University of Manchester occupiers,
The below are writing to offer our full solidarity and support to all those in occupation.
The treatment of students by the University of Manchester, has been abhorrent and your institution’s failure to engage with you meaningfully over your reasonable demands is totally unacceptable.
We unequivocally support your calls for:
· A rent reduction of at least 40% for the remainder of the academic year 2020-2021
· To offer all students no-penalty early release clause from their tenancy contracts, for both this and the next academic years.
· Increase the standard of support for students in halls of residence
· A commitment to no staff redundancies whilst the pandemic continues, and to maintain a consistent dialogue with UCU around issues that affect our staff members
Your struggle against neoliberalism and marketisation in higher education is also our struggle against landlords, bosses, austerity and privatisation. We call for a free education system and society that puts people over profit.
Greater Manchester Housing Action
Stockport Tenants Union
Stockport Trades Council
Unite Greater Manchester Social Action Branch NW389
The Greater Manchester Tenants Union
Northern Police Monitoring Project
MCFC Fans Foodbank Support
The Media Fund
Ethan Green (ACORN Manchester Branch)
Catherine Newall Greater Manchester Tenants Union, Moss Side Branch
Emily Blackburn, member of ACORN Manchester
Joel Chima, member of Tenants Union
Sam Doherty, ACORN member
Alice Edwins, Postgraduate Student at the University of Manchester
Beth Redmond, organiser GMTU
Dr Lois Stone, ACORN member and UoM alum
Ian Allinson (Manchester TUC President)
Michael Mcgearty (ACORN member)
William Rogerson, Unison/ACORN member
Nick Clarke, MCFC Fans Foodbank Support
Jamie Robinson, Member of ACORN
Freya Bruce, student
Chris Moore, ACORN Manchester
Ayden Brouwers, ACORN member
Joe Molloy – ACORN Member
Neil Seepujak, ACORN member, GMB rep
Ben Himsworth, ACORN member
Laura Connelly, lecturer/steering group member of Northern Police Monitoring Project
Helen Stott, student and member of ACORN
Ian Parker, Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, University of Manchester
Ewa Jasiewicz, Union Organiser, UVW and Unite Member
Dodie Ritman. Unite Community Branch
Erica Burman, Professor of Education ,University of Manchester
Pete Keenlyside, CWU and Withington CLP
Alison Harris, Member of GM Socialist Health Association and Didsbury East Labour Party
Jade Doswell, Fallowfield Labour Councillor
John Morgan NEU Officer
Jordan Linton, ACORN member/Trans Mutual Aid Manchester member
Stephen Rennie, Unite member
Steve Farley, PCS Trade Union Official
Dr Patrick Baxter, Unite Shop Steward LGBT Foundation
Ross McCaffrey, ACORN member
Yaron Golan, member of ACORN
Chris Jones, Unite NW389 Branch
James Wallace, Unite the Union
Isobel Cecil, ACORN Member
Linda Goodacre UCU and Withington Constituency Labour Party
Pascale, ACORN member
Paula Millward, Women‚Äôs officer Stockport Constituency Labour Party
John Pye, Bolton Council Unison and Manchester Trades Council treasurer
Cllr Matt Wynne, Edgeley and Cheadle Heath Ward, Stockport MBC
Zyra, NEU union member
Rosie Coan, member of ACORN
Cathrine Williams, teacher
Ruairi Leonard, Chair of Stockport Young Labour
Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer Midwifery (retired)
Samuel Booth, ACORN Member
Kati Silverberg, ACORN member
Vik Chechi-Ribeiro, Manchester NEU Vice-President
Jonathan Silver, GM Housing Action
Isaac Rose, organiser with GM Housing Action and GM Tenants Union
Feature image: UoM Rent Strike 2020