Manchester University students occupy three campus buildings in row over high rent

  • A video report by Granada Reports Journalist Rachel Pritchard

Dozens of students have barricaded themselves inside three campus buildings - with reports that security are unable to get inside.

The first year Manchester University students are inside the Engineering building, the Samuel Alexander building, and the John Owens buildings.

The students are calling for the university to offer a 30% cut on monthly payments, and refund some fees already paid to help with the affordability of rent for the rest of the year.

In January, hundreds of students announced they would be withholding rent amid claims they have been forced to use food banks and get full-time jobs to make ends meet.

Those inside the John Owens building say they have locked or barricaded every entrance with furniture, stopping security from entering the building.

Niamh Wybrant, a student at the university and protester, told ITV News: "I know people who get their maintenance loan, they're full-time students, working two part time jobs and they're still having to use foodbanks."

She continued to say: "When you're at university, a lot of the emphasis is supposed to be on the education and you can't focus on that if you're wondering where your next rent payment is going to come from or how you're going to afford food."

Pictures from the occupied buildings show signs which have been erected outside, which say: "We demand affordable rent. Nancy earns £260k," referring to the university president and vice chancellor, Nancy Rothwell.Another sign reads: "This building is occupied. Students are not cash cows."

"University puts profits over students and workers", reads another banner.

The occupation coincides with the University and College Union (UCU) strikes, with more than 70,000 university staff walking out across the nation.

It's understood the three buildings that have been occupied on campus. Credit: MEN Media

Responding to the occupation, a spokesperson from the University of Manchester spokesperson said: "We are aware of a small number of individuals gaining unauthorised access to three university-owned buildings overnight.

"Our primary concern is the health and safety of those people who are currently occupying the buildings."We are aware of some doors and entrances being barricaded and locked and are emphasising our concerns for their safety in the event of an emergency incident.

"The normal working of the university is continuing. We continue to monitor the situation carefully."

On the accommodation itself, the spokesperson said: “University accommodation is comparably priced to others in the Russell Group and less costly than private accommodation in Manchester.

"Rents also include 24/7 support through the Reslife team and security. Reslife also offer a huge events programme throughout the year, and there is the opportunity for developing personal skills through representing your hall through student voice or events based options.

“Unlike most private accommodation all accommodation includes energy bills, water and Wi-Fi. Some halls are also catered. Cleaners visit residences twice a week.

"Prices are set at the start of the year – we make sure our lowest priced halls have the lowest price increases. For this year that was 1.5%.

"Rents at private student accommodation across all Russell Group cities have increased by an average of 14.5 per cent, or £22 per week in the past four years, according to data collected by Cushman & Wakefield, the property consultancy."

On the rent strike it added: “Non-payment of rents this January was comparable to this time in 2022.

"The rate of payment in the most recent collection was consistent with those both in this and previous years.

"We are here to help and have contacted students about payment options and support.

“Participation figures quoted by students are not correct. They are based on people filling in an open form online and guesses about costs this incurs to the University.

"Students who haven’t paid rent will be contacted by residences staff to explore payment options and any support they might need – financial, advice or wellbeing.

"Our Living Cost Support Fund means that students can obtain grants of up to £2,000 if they are in financial difficulty.”

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