UoM students are not having it – despite cowardly bosses running to their lawyers

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Students at the University of Manchester (UoM) have vowed to continue their rent strike into at least the next academic year. This comes after bosses inflamed the situation by getting lawyers involved – and amid growing student disquiet nationally about the state of universities and higher education.

UoM: striking over rent

As the Canary documented, around 650 students have been withholding their rent from the UoM. This is because uni bosses increased rents on halls by up to £450 for the 2022 academic year. Plus, it’s unsurprising that students are rent striking when you see the state of the accommodation:

mould in a building

Back in February, students occupied areas of the university in protest. They were part of the group UoM Rent Strike. Bailiffs eventually removed them. Meanwhile, university bosses have dug their heels in. As the Canary previously wrote:

bosses are taking disciplinary action against 11 students over the peaceful occupation.

This includes potential fines and even expulsions. Moreover:

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 [from the occupation]

Read on...

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Demands of bosses

Now, some students have started receiving legal letters. UoM Rent Strike said in a press release:

Many rent strikers have received a new letter from Branchers LLP, a law firm instructed to collected the debt on behalf of the University. The letter, dated 9th June, says, ‘We anticipate our client will issue a formal pre action letter. Which may result in the issue of legal proceedings

UoM Rent Strike has the support of the majority of students. The UoM Student Body backed the actions by a 97% majority. All this is despite UoM making £119m a year. Moreover, the University and College Union (UCU) has found that the university has a surplus of £98m. So, UoM Rent Strike has continued to put pressure on uni bosses. It has made three demands of them:

  • A 30% rent rebate for the year, followed by the freezing of rents at that level for the next 3 years
  • A guarantee that 40% of accommodation will be affordable (less than 50% of maximum student loan) within the next 3 years
  • No punishment or victimisation for rent strikers, occupiers or other protesters related to the campaign

The concern over affordability was underscored by UoM bosses’ plans for student accommodation redevelopment. The uni will be demolishing and redeveloping three halls on the Fallowfield Campus. While the plans state that the aim is to provide “more high-quality, modern student accommodation” that “enriches the student experience”, students are wary. UoM Rent Strike is concerned that bosses have not mentioned affordability anywhere in the proposals.

So now, the group has said that the protest and rent strike will continue “indefinitely”:

Universities: hollowed-out but not yet rotten

A spokesperson for UoM Rent Strike said that:

It is clear that our University has the money to take legal action against peaceful protestors, yet refuses to provide affordable accommodation at the expected standard of liveability to its students.

A press release from the group added that:

Students plan to continue striking until the University finally decides to listen to them. The unprecedented disciplinary action against 11 peaceful protestors, and resorting to expensive legal fees to silence the voices of their own students, has set a worrying tone in the suppression of free speech on campus going into the future.

The group will also be:

mobilising the next year’s first years to build their own rent strike for a second year running

Student disquiet is a running theme across several universities – including Brighton’s protests over redundancies. These situations are reflective of the wider situation in higher education. Successive governments’ privatisation and marketisation of universities, coupled with greedy uni bosses, have led to the hollowing-out of the student experience. At the UoM, though, students won’t be beaten, and this situation is likely to be seen at more and more universities in the future.

Featured image and additional images via UoM Rent Strike

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