Tensions rise as student rent strikes and occupations continue at Lancaster and Manchester Universities

Students at Manchester and Lancaster staged rent strikes and occupied university buildings

Jay Barber
13th March 2023
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Over the past month, students at both Manchester and Lancaster Universities have staged rent strikes and occupied university buildings in protest against a range of issues, most notably the cost and quality of university accommodation and provision of Cost of Living support. Student also cite their support for UCU strike action and, at Lancaster, demands to cut ties with arms companies as reasons for the action.

Students at Lancaster University occupied the Charles Carter building from the 13th to 17th of February, with students in Manchester occupying the Engineering Building, Samuel Alexander Building, John Owens Building and Simon Building. As of the 2nd March, the Samuel Building remains occupied.

Across the country, students are continuing to face extreme financial difficulties in the wake of the Cost of Living Crisis. The National Union of Students report that accommodation costs have increased by 61% in the last decade, with 41% of students living off £100 or less per month after paying their rent and bills. This is coupled with the impact of UCU Strikes, in which lecturers are fighting for improved working conditions and highlighting the high salaries of university Vice Chancellors. With students left struggling and unsatisfied with university support both academically and financially, organisers have escalated pressure on universities to address the needs of the student body.

Accommodation costs have increased by 61% in the last decade, with 41% of students living off £100 or less per month after paying their rent and bills.

Tensions have risen between the Universities and protesting students. The occupying students in Lancaster report that electricity was cut off to the Charles Carter building, leaving them with no access to food or lighting. One occupier told The Tab that “[the university’s] willingness to turn off electricity and also hot water, […] shows that they very much don’t care about the wellbeing [of the occupiers]”.

Meanwhile, Manchester University has threatened student protestors with disciplinary action and are commencing legal proceedings to regain possession of the occupied buildings, stating their reasoning as “health and safety breaches, entry to private office spaces, and injury caused to colleagues”. The occupiers have denied the accusations on their social media (@rentstrikeUoM) and argue that the senior management of UoM are “attempt[ing] to discredit and suppress their voice”. In response, hundreds of students attended a protest organised by the occupiers on 1st March.

Both groups of occupiers have reported a lack of cooperation from their respective universities. Despite the occupations and rent strikes at Manchester amounting to over £200,000 withheld, students argue that disruption will continue “indefinitely” until demands are met – regardless of if disciplinary action is taken or not.

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