Manchester Rent Strike have taken the university’s whole senior management building
Security have tried to break into the building from the outside
Students at the University of Manchester have tonight taken over three university buildings as they escalate their rent strike dispute with the university.
The Samuel Alexander building is currently being occupied as well as the engineering building, with the third building revealed to be John Owens. The John Owens building contains senior management’s offices.
Manchester Rent Strike has said the students won’t leave the buildings until the university meets its demands. These include the university giving each student £1,500 to “keep up with the maintenance loan in line with inflation”, as well as the existing demands of the rent strikers and those of striking lecturers.
The group warned the university: “Action will continue indefinitely.”
Entrances to John Owens have been barricaded by students. Security have been seen with power tools and made attempts at forced entry. Occupiers are calling for students or staff who support their cause to come to John Owen’s this morning and support them.
Last night, in surreal scenes, students leaving a lecture given by Professor Brian Cox were met with banners and signs telling them the building was being occupied.
Eyewitnesses claim the particle physics professor and TV star stopped to speak to the rent strikers. Images shared by Manchester Rent Strike on social media show him posing for a photo.
In a statement, Manchester Rent Strike said: “The occupations have been coordinated to coincide with the UCU strikes which begin on the morning of the 9th and will see more than 70,000 university staff walk out across the country.”
Last month, around 350 students withheld this term’s rent when it was due on the 19th January. The group claim this amounted to over £500,000 however the university dispute this figure and the number of those taking part.
A spokesperson for the group added: “More than half of all students in England are currently facing financial difficulties, with more than three quarters worried that increasing prices will negatively impact their academic success. It is undeniable that students are on the frontline of the cost-of-living crisis, which is affecting millions of people across the UK.
“The combination of sky-high rents, the marketisation of the higher education sector, and the spiralling cost-of-living are also having a major negative effect on the mental health and future plans of students. Nearly half of students have said that their wellbeing and mental health has worsened since the start of the autumn term, and over a third have indicated that they are now less likely to continue in education once they have completed their course. An NUS survey also found that one in ten students use food banks.
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester previously said: “Whilst there are always reasons why rent payments are not received when they are due, 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 of the rent campaign quoted by students are not correct as they are based on people filling in an open form online and guesses about costs this incurs to the University. Our Living Cost Support Fund means that students can obtain grants of up to £2,000 if they are in financial difficulty.
“We also share concerns with students that the recent increase in maintenance loans falls far short of keeping pace with inflation. The situation has of course been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis and we are advocating strongly on behalf of our students to see this position change.
“We have provided special Cost of Living payments to students recently in recognition of the pressures many are facing in the current global economic environment. Full time students received £170 and part time students received £85; this totals a £9m support package.”
“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.”
This story is being updated.