Manchester senior staff accused of discussing rent striker’s financial background in leaked emails

‘The university is just trying to distract from its failings’

One of the lead rent strikers has accused senior members of staff of speculating about his financial situation in leaked email chains seen by The Manchester Tab.

The email conversation, obtained from a Freedom of Information request, shows VC Nancy Rothwell asking which halls of residence one of the rent strikers is in. She cites his claims of living in a small bedroom where the heating is often not on.

In response, Simon Merrywest, Director of the Student Experience, confirms the student is living in Oak House, one of the halls he applied to. But, Merrywest goes on to “note” the student’s application to more expensive en-suite halls, including Unsworth Park.

Fraser McGuire, the student in question, is one of the leaders of Manchester Rent Strike. He’s a first year student of History and Politics whose substandard living conditions in Oak House prompted him to get involved in the movement.

Regarding these emails, Fraser told The Manchester Tab: “I think Simon was intentionally trying to imply that I could have afforded nicer accommodation than Oak House, and therefore that the points I’ve raised about the issues with high rent and cost of living aren’t valid.”

He added: “I applied to Oak House twice as I saw that was the cheapest one. As we got five choices [of accommodation], I then chose three other ones randomly in Fallowfield as I knew that’s where I wanted to be in halls.”

Fraser has previously stated his rent for Oak House uses up over 70% of his maintenance loan, leaving little extra for other necessities. Already struggling financially in the cheapest hall, he says he knew he’d never be able to afford the more expensive accommodations.

First year student Fraser McGuire

Fraser went on to argue that this scrutiny over a “random” decision he made three months before starting uni reflects Manchester’s desire to “deflect from their own failings.”

“The university is making a £120 million surplus but the support provided for students struggling financially after the university decided to increase halls rent [this academic year] has been nothing short of a failure,” he stated.

“It is absolutely shameful that the university senior leadership is willing to spend time discussing individual students involved in the rent strike when they haven’t even bothered to negotiate or even properly respond to the demands raised by the campaign.”

Student is carried down a corridor by baliffs

Fraser being carried out of Simon by bailiffs

However, the university has refuted Fraser’s argument, saying that the comment was nothing more than an observation. A spokesperson for the University of Manchester said, “In response to your FOI question, the comment was simply a statement of fact.”

Even so, this is not the first time Manchester’s SLT have been caught discussing student activists over email. In fact, an investigation by The Manchester Tab last year found that Nancy Rothwell herself had monitored the social media accounts of rent strikers.

As rent strikers continue to await any contact from the university, it appears occupying buildings may not be the most effective approach of grabbing the attention of senior staff. Instead, perhaps a bolder move would be to apply for a room with an en-suite.

Featured image credit (before edits): @TheNewsAgents

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