Students in Manchester protest against the fences. Photo: Lucy Nichols Students in Manchester protest against the fences. Photo: Lucy Nichols

Students are raging at being repeatedly let down by the government and universities. Fences were the last straw for Manchester students – so they brought them down

Thousands of students at the University of Manchester have come together in protest against the university management’s treatment of both staff and students.

The University’s decision to erect fencing around the main accommodation campus in Fallowfield has sparked nationwide outrage, especially given that neither residents nor staff were given prior warning.

Within hours of this fencing going up on Thursday morning, the decision to protest was made. Huge crowds of angry students gathered outside the Owen’s Park reception from 8pm on Thursday evening.

After some brief speeches, and the reading of a statement of support from the UMUCU, the protest held a heart-wrenching moment of silence a 19-year-old student that tragically took his own life in University of Manchester halls in October.

This sadness quickly transformed into rage, as students only had to look around them to the fences to be reminded of the injustice they faced.

Within 10 minutes, the first barrier had been torn down, and shortly after so were all of those surrounding the main reception and courtyard. Within 15 minutes, the demonstration – now over a thousand strong – seemed to collectively agree that not a single fence was to be left standing.

Photo: Lucy Nichols

Protesters began the short march to the south of the campus, tearing down fences as they marched. In a somewhat apocalyptic scene, the massive protest tore through the mist, lighting flares and backlit by the constant stream of fireworks going off in a nearby park.

Not even an hour after the first fence was toppled, not a single one was left. Students then began to disperse before the police had even arrived to do anything about it.

According to the university, fences were put up to ‘separate’ students given the new lockdown and growing cases in Manchester. Despite this the university has been quick to backtrack, with promises to remove the fences just as students began to gather at the foot of the famous Owen’s Park tower.

Thursday evening’s action was surely protest in the purest sense. Fences were toppled completely spontaneously and the whole ordeal was over as fast as it started. Speeches were kept to minimum and the focus was instead placed on chants of ‘Boris Johnson is a w*nker’ and ‘f*ck the fence.’

Though the issue of fences will most likely be put to bed in the coming days, this will not be the last we hear from students at the University of Manchester.

Anger has been steadily growing since the move back to campus in September. The government has failed students at every step of this crisis, and this is ardently clear in how UoM has got away with the treatment of its students.

After being sold false promises of normalcy and persuaded to move into uni halls, freshers were blamed for the massive increase in Covid cases in Manchester. When they were then inevitably forced into isolation without food, they were essentially told to look after themselves.

These same students were given very little mental health support – despite isolating in accommodation barely fit to live in, with mould, broken windows and damp.

Even after one student tragically took his own life, the university continued scapegoating students, just as Matt Hancock chimed in to cancel Christmas (for undergrads at least).

It is right that these fences were toppled, in what can only be described as an outburst of uncontrollable rage from the students that have repeatedly been let down by the government and university management.

This same rage is felt by other students all over the country.

The fight against the for-profit education system and the Tory government that upholds it will continue, and Manchester is unlikely to be the first university that sees mass resistance from students.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.