The University of Manchester (UoM) is taking disciplinary action against a group of students who exercised their right to free speech and protest. The situation arose due to uni bosses hiking rents on student accommodation, which saw students respond with occupations and demos. Now, the university is attempting to make an example of 11 of these students. However, they are rightly not having it.
UoM: dire accommodation and inflated rents
As the Canary previously reported, in February the group UoM Rent Strike occupied various campus buildings. It was in protest against uni bosses increasing rents on halls by up to £450 for the 2022 academic year. The quality of the rooms is pretty dire as well – as photos from UoM Rent Strike show:
Meanwhile, the university itself is making over £119m a year. Plus, it doubled its financial surplus since 2020. So, UoM Rent Strike took action – occupying buildings in protest over bosses’ treatment of students:
BREAKING: We are occupying three university buildings!
Our demands are simple: – UoM must give in to the rent strike demands – UoM must give each student a £1,500 to keep up with the maintenance loan in line with inflation – UoM must give in to the UCU demands. pic.twitter.com/FDM8yLnJ9u
One of the highlights was students occupying the bosses’ offices – including one of a dame on £260,000 a year, no less – and then locking security out
Uni bosses were clearly rattled – because now, they’re taking what UoM Rent Strike call “unprecedented and heavy-handed” action.
University bosses are ‘setting an example’
The group said in a press release that bosses are taking disciplinary action against 11 students over the peaceful occupation. It wrote:
The potential punishments range from warnings to fines to expulsion from the University, and it is believed that they intend to expel the students, to set an example. This has created a chilling effect on protest in university campuses amid the wider clampdown on freedom of speech against activists across the country.
This comes after the uni bosses took the students to court in March. It issued a 12-month ban on occupations – with UoM Rent Strike saying the legal and associated costs to the university around their occupation were around £100k. This included £40k on bailiffs alone – who forcibly removed students:
Of course, all this could have been avoided. UoM Rent Strike says it tried to reach out to uni bosses, but they failed to enter negotiations with the group.
Moreover, UoM Rent Strike has the support of the majority of students. The UoM Student Body backed the actions by a 97% majority. Plus, the action isn’t confined to a small number of students.
Students forced the university to reveal – via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request – that as of 10 March, 385 students were withholding rent – as part of a rent strike. UoM Rent Strike now estimate this number to be 650.
We have provided special Cost of Living payments to students recently in recognition of the pressures many are facing. Every full-time student has received a special £170 payment and can apply for grants of up to £2000. This totals £9m.
We also share concerns with students that the recent increase in maintenance loans falls far short of keeping pace with inflation and we are advocating strongly on behalf of our students to see this position change.
However, the 11 students disagree.
‘Unprecedented and heavy-handed’: bosses in a nutshell
They said in a statement that university bosses:
are claiming that we have committed “serious misconduct”, with a list of false allegations including damage, disorderly and offensive language and behaviour, and health & safety breaches. They are attempting to misrepresent us as a small, extreme and violent group – the report even compares us to terrorists – and completely disregards the reasons why we feel the need to protest.
This is an unprecedented and heavy-handed response from the University of Manchester. Protest occupations have a long history at this university and across the country. This is a clear attempt to set an example of a small number to deter the wider student body from taking part in protests.
The University has also breached official guidelines in how this process is run, including not providing information or evidence to the students until after the investigation was complete. They are attempting to use collective punishment, accusing students of being responsible for actions that they have no evidence of their involvement in. This should be a fair process, but we believe it is being influenced by senior management’s political disagreements with us.
We call on UoM to address our demands for more affordable accommodation, better cost-of-living support and to listen to the UCU, not to take disproportionate punitive action.
So, it seems that uni bosses will quite happily come down hard on these 11 students just to make an example of them. Moreover, the goal is clearly to send a message to the rest of the student body that dissent won’t be tolerated.
In some ways, it’s preposterous that uni bosses think they can quell radical, rebellious voices within higher education – but clearly that’s the goal here. However, UoM Rent Strike – along with the other students – won’t take this lying down.
You can sign a letter of solidarity with the students here.
Featured image and additional images via UoM Rent Strike
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