The ‘last straw’ that led to the University of Manchester student strikes

First-year University of Manchester student, George, joined The Voice of London’s Zakia in conversation on the recent student protests and rent strikes. In the interview, George highlights the events that led up to the student protests and explains how he personally felt following the preventive measures that were introduced by the university.  

Full transcript below:

Welcome to VOL’s interview series. I am joined by George here, a student at the University of Manchester. Feel free to introduce yourself and let our viewers know what’s been happening in the recent weeks with students and the rent strikes.

[George]: I’m George. I’m at the University of Manchester and I am a first-year studying Planning and Real-estate and I live on the Fallowfield campus where, as you may have seen, there’s been a lot going on with fences and there’s a rent strike happening at the moment. It sort of all started one morning when we woke up and the university had put fences around everyone’s accommodation. They hadn’t told any of us what was going on so I checked my phone – the university group chats, people were panicking because fences were put up. Some of the external gates – you used to be able to swipe your card to get out and they weren’t working, so obviously that was causing a bit of a panic as well. It especially was tough because just a couple weeks before, a student unfortunately died in accommodation here. The university haven’t said anything about that, they didn’t give any support. And then they’ve gone and done this, again without telling anyone, without giving any support. I think it was sort of the last straw, there’s been a lot of little things they’ve done and I think the whole fence thing really pushed us to the protests and to really progress with the rent strikes.

I head that they’ve offered students a rent cut equivalent to the amount that was raised this year. Were you actually living in the halls during then and how do you feel about the measures taken after the protests? 

[George]: Yes, so I’ve been living in halls since the beginning of the university year. I think they offered a 5% reduction, a 2-week rent break I guess, so they’re basically not charging us for the time we will be at home anyway for the Christmas holidays. In my opinion I’m not sure it’s enough because we were brought on to unsafe campuses, we were promised in-person teaching – we haven’t had in-person teaching. I understand that the situation changed but I think if you’re charging UK students 9.25K a year and international students so much more to be here – if you promise them these things and you can’t provide these things then I think there needs to be more than just a, “Here’s £200 off your next accommodation payment”

In terms of mental health services provided by the university, how do you think they have been effective? Have you had access to these services? 

[George]: Thankfully, I personally haven’t had to access the services but I know people who have and I have heard stories from people who have. The university (in terms of mental health services provided) – you had to prioritise your biggest struggle. It gave you a list of mental health struggles and you had to prioritise which one was your biggest – which I think was a bad way of doing it because as I’m sure many people are aware there can be so many things weighing down on you at once and to just pick one and say I want to deal with this is very difficult for someone to do. Since the protest, the university had provided us with a different mental health support scheme. I think they’ve partnered with an external mental-health provider, and it’s like a 24/7 chat-line thing. Again, I haven’t had to access it and it’s very new so I don’t know of anyone who has – but I think that is a good thing from the university, that they’ve changed the way they’re doing things after the outcry from students.

I also heard from the official University of Manchester’s Rent Strike account that the Wi-Fi was cut off during the time of the protests, and that students had compulsory tutorials and classes the next day. Are you aware about this or did you experience this yourself?

[George]: I didn’t experience this mainly because I don’t think I had a lecture/tutorial this day so I didn’t require the Wi-Fi I think – I was probably asleep at this time. But again, I have heard that the Wi-Fi was cut off.

How do you feel about the heightened security presence as well as the Wi-Fi being cut off? A lot of people said it felt like pressure tactics, do you agree on how students have been perceiving these measures that have been placed against them essentially or do you think it could have been carried out differently?

[George]: I do think it could have been be carried out differently. Off the top of my head I couldn’t give you how I would’ve handled it but I definitely think that police presence in general can heighten anxieties around people. We are meant to be living here, we are meant to feel comfortable where we live. With the constant eye of security and especially with what’s happened with security in the last week – unfortunately one of the student’s was racially profiled which really was so bad. I think it could’ve been handled differently. There’s a lot of security, but there’s not really much need for security. There were people coming onto campus and there were worries about people coming onto campus – and again, I think they could have handled it in a different way. But most importantly, they could have communicated with the students who are living here instead of doing things, waiting for the students to respond and then receiving all this backlash. They should have just spoken to the people living here.

What do you think is the general atmosphere among the students right now and yourself? How do you feel at present, following the latest events that took place?

[George]: I think with all the protests and everything, everyone’s very politically charged which is great. I think the student community here is so good. We all got together, we’ve all protested, so that’s really good. But I think it has definitely […] it’s sort of like something that is weighing down on everyone here. Everyone’s mood is a bit lower because everyone is aware of the horrible things that happened to the student last week and the student a couple of weeks ago – which is horrible.

How do you feel you are going to about your stay now in the coming year? Are you planning on staying in halls again or is this just a first-year option following what’s happened? Would you say, with what’s been happening, it has deterred you from staying in halls?

[George]: My plan was always to stay in halls first-year and then to try and find a house to rent second-year. I think staying in halls is a first-year university experience. Preferably I’d find somewhere to rent out next year. I don’t think it’s deterred me from staying in halls – mainly because I am privileged enough to not have experienced what other students have experienced so I don’t want to speak for them. Personally, I haven’t been deterred from staying in halls.


Read more from Voice of London:

Interviewed & transcribed by Zakia | Subbed by Jessica Noble 

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