Manchester University students win 30% rent cut after Covid protests

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Manchester University students win 30% rent cut after Covid protests

The University of Manchester has agreed to give its students a 30% cut in rent for the first half of the academic year following a fractious month of protests and rent strikes against its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The university published a statement on Wednesday stating that all students in university halls of residence will be given a rebate equivalent to four weeks rent as compensation for their reduced experience between September and the end of January. It also set out plans to reopen study spaces, address maintenance issues, improve safety and security, and work with students on a “behaviour pledge”.

The university said the total reduction equates to £4m, which is thought to make it the largest ever rebate secured by students following a rent strike campaign.

The move comes nearly a month after students pulled down fences that had been erected around their halls of residence overnight without their prior knowledge. The angry protest attended by hundreds was organised by a group of students on rent strike against the university, who said it had galvanised others into joining their movement.

A further protest was held following a racial profiling incident on its Fallowfield campus, sparking calls for the vice-chancellor, Nancy Rothwell, to quit.

The student unrest culminated in 15 students occupying a university building, Owen’s Park Tower. Following the announcement of the rebate, the rent strike group, which comprises some 200 students, said it would put an end to its occupation.

Ben McGowan, a politics and sociology student and one of Rent Strike Manchester’s organisers, said the group, which originally asked for a 40% rebate, had negotiated with the university indirectly through the student union. He added that the group planned to resume rent striking in January to secure further rebates for the second-half of the academic year.

“It’s a big relief, it does feel like a big victory. But it’s a shame it took so much,” he said. “This isn’t the end of student anger at the university. I hope it’s a moment for students on campus to see direct action work and us actually win.”

McGowan added that he has been sharing advice with students at several other universities, and that he expects more rent strike groups to emerge in the new year. The latest addition is a group at Cambridge University, which launched its campaign for a 30% rent reduction in a tweet posted on 23 November.

The largest group of rent striking students is at Bristol University, where there are an estimated 1,000 students on rent strike, of which more than 400 are in two organising WhatsApp groups.

Hamish Chapman, a politics and international relations student and one of the organisers, hopes that his institution will follow Manchester’s example. “We’ve had some wins but in the next days we’re going to step things up and become more aggressive with the university,” he said. “We’ll make sure they know how frustrated and dissatisfied we are.”

The university has made several concessions to the group, most recently pledging that students on rent strike will not be penalised financially, including backtracking on an earlier threat to deduct money from the bursaries typically given out to students from lower income families, or in terms of their educational progress.

The university also agreed to release students from their rental contracts on a case-by-case basis, and has offered all students a 10-day rebate to reflect their early departure from halls in December in line with government guidance.

Students on rent strike at Glasgow University at the beginning of the term secured a one-month rent rebate and a £50 payment to cover food expenditures during campus lockdowns. The group has since disbanded.

• This article was amended on 26 November 2020. Bristol University is providing a 10-day rebate for all students, not just those who have been released from their rental contracts for specific reasons as an earlier version suggested. And at the University of Manchester, the rent strike group is ending its occupation of Owen’s Park Tower, but is not resuming rent payments as an earlier version said.