Manchester Uni students win 30% rent discount after striking in halls

25 November 2020, 21:12 | Updated: 25 November 2020, 21:35

Students occupied the Owens Park Tower and staged a rent strike
Students occupied the Owens Park Tower and staged a rent strike. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Students at the University of Manchester have won hundreds of pounds in rent discounts after staging a strike - and are lobbying for even more.

Thousands of first-years have protested throughout November after face-to-face teaching was halted and bosses erected “prison-like” fencing around halls of residence.

A group of students occupied the Owens Park Tower building on the Fallowfield campus, claiming mental health and safety concerns had been ignored.

The university has now confirmed students living in halls will receive the reduction worth between £600 and £900, the equivalent of more than four weeks’ rent, covering the autumn term.

It will be provided irrespective of whether students stay in the halls over the Christmas holiday period, the university said in a statement.

Read more: Manchester Uni starts halls fences inquiry amid 'pressure cooker' on UK campuses

Read more: Manchester Uni students pull down 'prison like' fencing around halls

The offer will cost the Russell Group institution £4 million and is double the two-week settlement it promised to undergraduates last week.

Bosses said talks with the students’ union and elected student representatives had recognised the limited availability of some facilities due to the pandemic and had “an impact on the student experience”, with ongoing uncertainty about campus arrangements in January.

An “accommodation pledge” has been agreed to open up more social and study spaces in halls in line with Covid-19 guidance, improve the handling of maintenance issues, enhance safety and security in halls and outlining expectations of student behaviour.

Read more: Manchester Uni security guards suspended 'after racially profiling student'

It comes after hundreds of students tore down rows of metal fences put up around flats and communal areas on campus ahead of England's second national lockdown.

The incident was widely branded as the “final straw” for students, who went on to occupy a block and hold a rent strike, demanding a 40 per cent cut.

Organisers of the strike, “UoM Rent Strike” vowed to organise another rent strike in January “to ensure we win a similar victory in semester 2”.

They added: “The university continues to prioritise profit over students, but this win is evidence that power of solidarity can overcome the violence of greed.”

Manchester University said: “The University will be unable to provide further reductions, but students can decide to break their accommodation contract without financial penalty.”

Earlier this month the university’s vice-chancellor, Dame Nancy Rothwell, had to apologise to student Zach Adan, 19, who was allegedly racially profiled by security guards as he returned to his halls of residence. An investigation is ongoing.