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Manchester students join rent strike over university’s Covid response

By PA News

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Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus where hundreds of students have been told to self-isolate (PA)

Students from the University of Manchester are set to withhold rent in protest at the university’s treatment of those forced to self-isolate in halls.

They will join hundreds from Bristol who are also refusing to pay for their accommodation in a bid to improve support for students.

A tweet shared by the @uomrentstrike Instagram account said students in Manchester gave the university a week to reply to their demands: “They did not, therefore, we will be going ahead with the rent strike on October 23rd.”

Students are striking over how they have been treated while in isolation, and at the amount of online teaching taking place.

Bristol student Saranya Thambirajah, 19, said she had heard “countless” stories of self-isolating students being sent unsuitable food boxes, either with not enough food, food that does not match their dietary requirements or female students not being given sanitary products.

Ms Thambirajah, a first-year student who has been involved in organising the rent strike, told the PA news agency: “It’s great that Manchester is joining us in striking because they have not been treated well by their university either after having a ridiculous amount of Covid cases.

“This is probably the best time ever for students to take action and fight to be listened to because we really have been put through a lot this year, with the A-levels and now this.

“With the pandemic, it is common sense that the universities should be going above and beyond to support us and do more than the bare minimum and that is just not the case.”

The students from Manchester are the latest group who have warned they will take part in a rent strike, with those studying at Glasgow and Cambridge previously threatening to do the same.

More than 850 students at Bristol have signed a pledge saying they will not pay the university when the rent is due on Friday.

Among their demands, they are calling for no penalty releases and refunds for those who wish to move out of halls, a 30% rent cut for the rest of the year, and outdoor access for isolated students.

They are also protesting against the quality of food being delivered to students who are forced to self-isolate and are calling for mental health check-ins twice a week and transparency on the powers and actions of security staff enforcing lockdowns in halls.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said they acknowledged it was challenging for students having to self-isolate, and were providing them with free food boxes and fresh goods and “doing everything possible to support them”.

They said: “We welcome further discussions with representatives from Cut the Rent and Bristol Students’ Union, but this is an issue that is affecting all universities at the moment and our actions are guided by Public Health England and the authorities to limit the spread of coronavirus.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said in a statement that students have a choice on whether to study in person or remotely, and said officials would work with those who wish to return home in “exceptional circumstances”.

The spokesperson added: ““We have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, which includes a partnership with a major food retailer, delivery of parcels, wellbeing support, and assistance with practical matters such as arranging for laundry and prescription medicines.

“All students have been sent this information which includes clear guidance on the circumstances under which they are able to leave their accommodation whilst self-isolating. We continue to provide support for all students in our halls of residence, and students can contact their local ResLife team for help and advice, at any time.”

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