Manchester University rent strikes: Did the student occupations change anything?

What happens when you go on strike from paying your rent?

For a group of students from the University of Manchester the situation escalated until they were forcibly removed from a university building.

Manchester University Rent Strike undertook a series of actions, culminating in the occupation of several buildings over "extortionate" rents and "substandard" accommodation.

Private bailiffs physically evicted the group (at a cost of more than £40,000) after 38 days occupying the Simon Building - a teaching site at the centre of one of the campuses.

So where are those students now, and did any of it make a difference?

Hasan was one of the occupiers in the Simon Building.

He refused to leave the building until he was "physically dragged out of the building" and says the use of bailiffs "shows the university has the money to help the students but would rather spend it on brutalising them".

The student was part of a group of 11 who were physically removed, while the other occupiers walked out of the building.

Grey, who's using a fake name, was also involved in the occupation.

Grey and Hasan were both involved in the occupation of the Simon Building. Credit: ITV News Here's the Story

"It was a really nice space, probably better than our actual accommodation," they said, describing one room used for study and another for communal living complete with a fridge.

But did it achieve anything? "They were terrified by the occupation," Grey says of the University of Manchester.

"They've made it pretty clear that they were willing to spend loads of money ignoring us - rather than spending money to meet our demands."

But, ultimately, they admit: "It didn't achieve our aims".

The movement says it has, however, made the university "more aware of growing pressures of the movement".

And that's a sentiment Hasan agrees with: "I'm not going anywhere, neither are any of the other rent strikers and we're here to fight it out as long as it takes".

Credit: UoM Rent Strike

On the removal of the occupiers, a University of Manchester spokesperson said: "On 22 March 2023 officers of the High Court attended the Simon Building to enforce a court order, on a small group of students who had been illegally occupying rooms there since mid-February. This action was a last resort following multiple and repeated requests to those illegally occupying the building to leave which were ignored. Court hearing papers were served on the occupiers on 15 March.  

"We very much regret having to do this and would have much preferred not to spend money on the resulting necessary security costs. However, the situation had been going on for a significant amount of time and caused disruption to students and the people who work in the building. 

"During these occupations, alongside the entry to private spaces we have been very concerned to see evidence of health and safety being severely compromised – both for the occupiers and our wider students and colleagues. Very sadly, several of our Campus Support and Security colleagues were injured when on two separate occasions a group of students rushed the doors to force entry. This behaviour is simply not acceptable."

The student rent strikers described these incidents as "exaggerated and fabricated".