Students At Four English Universities Launch Campus Occupations

The occupations have been launched in protest at a lack of support for students during the pandemic.
Students occupy a building at the University of Nottingham. Photo courtesy of Notts Uni Rent Strike​.
Students occupy a building at the University of Nottingham. Photo courtesy of Notts Uni Rent Strike.

Students at four English universities have staged occupations on campus in response to escalating anger at the treatment of students during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Students at the University of Manchester, the University of Sheffield, the University of Nottingham and Sheffield Hallam University are staging protests on campus buildings as part of a rent strike campaign, calling for the government to bail out the University sector after a survey from the National Union of Students (NUS) found that students had paid over £1 billion pounds for empty rooms. 

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Although some university rent strikes have succeeded in winning rent money back for students who have been unable to return to their halls, many are still facing rent debt or even legal action from private and university landlords.

Students occupy a building at the University of Manchester. Photo courtesy of UoM Rent Strike.

Students occupy a building at the University of Manchester. Photo courtesy of UoM Rent Strike.

Students are demanding the government bail out the university sector in order to receive compensation for lost in-person teaching and accommodation contracts for rooms they have been unable to occupy due to coronavirus restrictions. 

Across the four universities, around 40 students are occupying buildings. 

"This national occupation is just the latest in a series of fightbacks by students against the corrupt system of University management that treats them as cash cows first and people last,” Mattie Shannon, a student at the University of Manchester told VICE World News. “All four occupying Universities are now entering their fifth day of occupation, and the morale is still really high. We are prepared to be occupying for as long as it takes to have our demands for a fairer and more equitable University system to be met."

University students have faced unprecedented hardship this academic year as coronavirus has disrupted studies but not reduced the cost of studying. Many were promised “blended learning” – a combination of online and in person teaching – at the start of the year, resulting in students feeling misled after courses were forced to become online only after a national lockdown. Many students who were told not to return to their university accommodation still paid rent in full. 

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Students occupy a building at the University of Manchester. Photo courtesy of UoM Rent Strike.

Students occupy a building at the University of Manchester. Photo courtesy of UoM Rent Strike.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the NUS told VICE World News: “I would like to extend my full solidarity to every student who has been forced to occupy campus buildings, after having been exploited for fees and rent throughout this pandemic.”

“Students deserve better than the way that they have been scapegoated, lied to and trapped paying for housing they can’t access or can’t afford, due to the government’s abysmal treatment of students throughout the pandemic,” she continued. “Whilst we wholeheartedly support their resistance, students shouldn’t need to fight to be able to afford to be in education on a campus by campus basis. We need the Government to step up and provide a financial support package that includes direct payments to students, a reinstatement of maintenance grants, action on student housing and movement towards fully funded education.”

A spokesperson from the University of Manchester said: “A small number of students are currently occupying an area in one of our buildings without permission. Staff are on site to ensure safety and welfare. We would ask that the students leave. We understand that some of our students have concerns and we are continuing to work closely with their elected representatives.”

A spokesperson from Sheffield Hallam University said: “We fully support students’ rights to express their views through peaceful protest, and are committed to continuing dialogue with the protesters. Senior staff from the University and Hallam Students’ Union Officers met today (Friday) with the three student protesters currently occupying the building to continue those conversations. We have also provided them with access to facilities on-site.”

“The University itself does not own any accommodation and is not a landlord,” they continued. “However, we want to support students who are understandably concerned about paying for accommodation they may not be able to use during the pandemic, so are working closely with accommodation providers to try and ensure that tenancy agreements reflect the current circumstances.”

VICE World News reached out to the University of Sheffield and the University of Nottingham.