James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
Rent strike students occupy university buildings 'until demands are met'
23 April 2021, 17:36 | Updated: 23 April 2021, 20:09
Groups of students are occupying buildings at several universities as part of an ongoing dispute over rent and tuition fees.
Thousands continue to refuse to pay their rent while they are banned from returning to campus due to coronavirus lockdown measures.
Many others currently living in accommodation are furious at the lack of face-to-face teaching and students being forced to regularly self-isolate due to virus outbreaks in halls.
Protesters arrived to occupy buildings at four universities - University of Manchester, University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University - between Thursday night and Friday morning, with some locking doors with chains.
Around 10 University of Manchester (UoM) students entered a campus building on Thursday evening and told university staff they "won’t be leaving until our demands are met".
The group unfurled large banners down the side of the Sam Alex building reading "this is an occupied building, students welcome" and "Nancy, do not react, you are the saboteur" - a reference to the Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell.
Demands range from a 30% to 100% rebate on rent for students living in halls this semester and a £1,500 cash rebate for every student, as well as individual changes to how the universities are managed.
UoM Spanish and Arabic student Lucy told LBC that students were fed up of living "at the same poor accommodation and living conditions, with silverfish and flooding".
She said one of the main decisions was about the loss of confidence in the Vice-Chancellor.
A UoM spokesperson said: "A small number of students are currently occupying an area in one of our buildings without permission. Staff are on site to ensure safety and welfare.
"We would ask that the students leave. We understand that some of our students have concerns and we are continuing to work closely with their elected representatives."
Thousands of UoM first-years won a battle over rent in the first semester after protesting throughout November, but many others feel unheard by university management.
At the University of Sheffield (UoS), four students entered the Arts Tower building on Friday morning to begin their occupation.
First-year politics and international relations student, Dan, told LBC: "We have been on rent strike in Sheffield and across the other universities since January - there have been hundreds of people taking part."
A UoS spokesperson said: "We understand this has been an incredibly difficult year for students and throughout the pandemic and we have been working hard to support them in the best possible way.
"As part of this continued support, the University has not charged rent to students who are unable to make use of their University owned or managed accommodation due to the government's restrictions and has established a £3 million Covid Support Fund for those facing financial difficulties.
"While the University cannot control the decisions of private landlords, we are continuing to work closely with the Students' Union to ensure we are providing students with the most effective and appropriate support."
A first-year politics student at Sheffield Hallam who has joined the protests told LBC their university "washed their hands of the whole thing and told us 'it's not our problem'" when confronted by protesters earlier this year.
They said: "Problems we've raised about the accommodation ... the behaviour of police and security guards, plus the wider reasons for going on strike have just been completely ignored by the university.
"They've not really tried to engage with us - we had one meeting in mid-January with [university management] and that's it."
Concerns have also been raised about the treatment of a protester at Sheffield Hallam who was pinned to the ground by a security guard on Thursday evening.
A Sheffield Hallam University spokesperson said: "We are committed to continuing dialogue with the rent strike protesters. Senior staff from the University and Hallam Students' Union Officers are visiting them this morning to continue those conversations.
"We are also aware of an incident that occurred on Thursday evening at the Cantor building involving a protester and security officer, and are investigating this."
A University of Nottingham spokesperson said: "Staff and students can continue to access the building, and we are monitoring the situation to ensure students protest peacefully and safely.
"In this most challenging of years for the country, we are doing everything we can to support students' education, welfare and finances during the national lockdowns and restrictions.
"The University has not charged for unused accommodation since January and has made more than £1.75 million available to support students facing financial difficulties resulting from the pandemic.
"While we will facilitate peaceful and respectful protest, we will not be negotiating or considering any demands from unofficial protest groups."
The National Union of Students has been contacted for comment.