215 Manchester Uni freshers to withhold over £300,000 in halls rent strike

‘We’re paying to be at uni and have a worse experience’

At least 215 University of Manchester freshers are set to withhold over £300k in a halls rent strike.

Earlier this month, students worked out they would be withholding £307,000 – however this was worked out based on fewer students than have now committed to striking, so the actual number is likely to be far higher.

They cite issues with online learning, feeling like they lack University support, and a general feeling that they wouldn’t have come to uni if they’d known it would be like this. From the rent strike, they’re asking for a reduction in accommodation fees for the rest of the year, among other things.

The Manchester Tab spoke to the people behind the UoM rent strike:

‘Being at uni feels like worse than being at home’

One organiser, speaking to The Manchester Tab, says she’s had no in-person teaching at all since she started this term.

She says “being at uni feels like worse than being at home” – her halls room has bad WiFi, no access to a printer and a small desk, so it feels like they’re “paying to be at uni, have access to less things and have a worse experience”. There are other issues with online learning, such as lecturers still not being able to work out how properly to use Zoom.

One of her friends studies music, and hasn’t been able to access the music studios she needs to practice in. As a result she’s had to move home in order to properly do her course, whilst still paying rent for an unused room in Manchester.

‘We feel massively unsupported’

The organiser says her flat had to isolate after four housemates tested positive for coronavirus, but they received little support from the uni, other than a box of food on the day before they came out of isolation.

She says there was a point when “every flat I knew was isolating,” in “a bizarre scenario” where some students had to wash clothes in their sinks, were unable to get food, and otherwise felt they lacked support.

In general, she says she, along with many other students, have felt “massively unsupported” since the start of term. “We were promised a situation which would be Covid-secure and with stuff in place for online learning,” she says, but that hasn’t exactly happened.

The University has said: “We have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating. We continue to provide support for all students in our halls of residence, and students can contact their local ResLife team for help and advice, at any time.”

‘I wouldn’t have come if I’d known it would be like this’

The organiser speaking to The Tab Manchester said she took a year out after school, “working really really hard to be able to afford my rent, but now there’s no reason for me to be there.” She says the way this year has panned out feels “disheartening”.

“If I’d known it would be like this I wouldn’t have come, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way”, she added.

The organisers formed a group, of about seven freshers, to plan the rent strike. They say it’s been harder to organise without being able to meet face-to-face, but they’ve been able to get their message out on social media and in group chats. They now have over 215 participants who have committed to the rent strike, and have calculated hundreds of thousands of pounds will be withheld.

Their specific demands are: “A minimum of 40 per cent reduction in accommodation fees for the remainder of the academic year; to offer all students no-penalty early release clause from their tenancy contracts for both this year and the next academic years; improve the standard of support for students in halls of residence (this includes day-to-day support such as mental health, and also comprehensive COVID support packages for flats isolating); no penalties for those rent striking.”

More details of the UoM rent strike can be found on their Twitter and Instagram.

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We fully understand that these are challenging and difficult times for all our students, especially those who are self-isolating in university accommodation, and we are doing all we can to support them.

“Our students – subject to their course requirements – have an informed choice as to whether to study in person in Manchester or remotely. The UK Government advice for Greater Manchester is that students are strongly encouraged to remain in their current accommodation and not return to their family home or other residential accommodation.

“If in exceptional circumstances students wish to return home for a period and no longer require their University accommodation, we will work with them to make sure they can safely leave the campus. Details of how to do this were emailed to all halls residents on 9 October 2020.

“We have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, which includes a partnership with a major food retailer, delivery of parcels, wellbeing support, and assistance with practical matters such as arranging for laundry and prescription medicines. All students have been sent this information which includes clear guidance on the circumstances under which they are able to leave their accommodation whilst self-isolating.

“We continue to provide support for all students in our halls of residence, and students can contact their local ResLife team for help and advice, at any time.”

Featured image via SWNS

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