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Occupied Sam Alex building

Occupied Sam Alex building. Photo: University of Manchester Occupation

Students at the University of Manchester have occupied a building demanding a rent rebate, an end to policing of accommodation and staff redundancies, reports Lucy Nichols

For a second time this academic year, students have occupied the University of Manchester. On Thursday evening, a group of activists walked into the Samuel Alexander building on the main campus and took over a large section of the building.

Students from a number of Manchester campaign groups, including the Nancy Out! Campaign, Rent Strike and Cops off Campus plan to occupy the University until their demands are met. We are asking for:

  • A rent rebate of 30% for all students living in University accommodation halls
  • A cash rebate of £1500 for all students
  • A democratisation of the University
  • An end to police patrols of the Fallowfield accommodation campus
  • An end to compulsory redundancies of staff
  • No repercussions for occupiers or rent strikers

This occupation, the fifth Manchester has seen in the last two years, comes after an incredibly turbulent academic year. The University of Manchester has had all manner of bad press since the beginning of the pandemic, and has repeatedly come under fire for various lapses in judgement; from threatening to fire tens of staff from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures in 2019, to fencing in students in Fallowfield in 2020 and sending police to patrol student accommodation in 2021.

Most recently, the University has roundly ignored two votes of no confidence in Nancy Rothwell and her senior management team. In December, the University of Manchester UCU passed a vote of no confidence by 96%, and in March students held their own, which passed by an historic 89%.

Despite this, the Board of Governors has pledged their continuing support for the disastrous management of the University, while the Student’s Union has been reluctant (at best) to push for their resignation and replacement.

Meanwhile, the University has been threatening rent strikers with bailiffs, sending police to illegally enter student flats with the campus security’s blessing, and has threatened library staff with redundancies.

We therefore saw no option but to occupy once again, and have chosen a building on the main campus, within full view of Oxford Road to protest our University’s disastrous handling of the pandemic.

Photo: University of Manchester Occupation

This time, however, we are not alone. Four universities around the country are currently holding occupations with very similar aims to ours. Students at Sheffield Hallam, the University of Sheffield and the University of Nottingham are all taking on their university managements along with us, in a national effort taking aim at the higher education system in Britain as a while, which is overly privatised, marketised and profit obsessed.

It has been abundantly clear that students have been repeatedly let down by the government since the being of the pandemic, through a lack of guidance for both students and universities. In a press release from all four occupations, we have called on the government to ‘bail out the Higher Education sector so students can be fairly compensated for lost teaching’, in addition to rent rebates for all students across the UK.

The issues faced by students are not local, but national, and have largely been going on for far longer than the year since the virus hit the UK. Like we have seen in many other institutions, the problems created by decades of privatisation and austerity have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. The end of this pandemic will not stop Universities from exploiting students and staff, nor will it stop exploitative businesses from using fire and rehire strategies, or miraculously put an end to the horrendous working conditions for nurses.

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for collective struggle; the sudden worsening of conditions for students has forced us to protest against what is essentially years’ worth of deep-set problems. A series of successes in Manchester has proved that where we fight, we can win. This is why we thought it necessary to occupy once again, and after a few meetings with our Students’ Union, it seems like we will, once again, be able to force the University into making concessions.

Any win in this occupation does not mean that student activists will stop fighting for fundamental change in the way universities in the UK are run – this occupation is likely only the beginning of a very long battle with both greedy Vice Chancellors and greedy politicians sitting in Downing Street.

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