In January 2023, approximately 150 students at The University of Manchester (UoM) began a rent strike, demanding a 30 percent reduction in rent and a 30 percent rebate for past payments. After several weeks of striking with no response from the administration, the students started taking turns occupying UoM buildings, including one that houses the office of Nancy Rothwell, the President and Vice Chancellor of UoM. (In the wake of the 2020 and 2023 rent strikes, it was confirmed earlier this month, Rothwell will be stepping down in 2024.)
On February 13th, the rent strikers shifted their attention to the Simon building, which houses UoM’s Human Resources department, lecture halls, and a few labs. On March 20th, the UoM administration received approval from the High Court to evict the occupying students from the Simon building. The students were notified on March 21st, and a private eviction task force of 15 bailiffs, from the National Eviction Team (N.E.T.), forcibly evicted around 20 student protestors in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 22nd.
“This occupation has ended, but I have no plans to stop protesting,” said one of the evicted student rent strikers that morning. “There’s a crisis for students; one in ten have to use food banks. That’s why we think it’s outrageous that a university, which made a profit of [£119 million] last year, is not using these resources to allow students to focus on their studies.”
2020 UoM Rent Strike
The University of Manchester is not new to rent strikes. In 2020, around 200 UoM students went on a rent strike, and when their demands were not met, 15 protestors occupied Owen’s Park Tower, an academic building on campus. The administration eventually agreed to a 30 percent reduction in their rent for half of the academic year and a rebate of a month’s rent. The students accepted the deal worth millions and ended the rent strike as well as the occupation. The story, however, did not end there. UoM’s 2020 rent strike sparked a chain of rent strikes “at 55 out of 140 universities in the UK.”
In 2023, the UoM administration has yet to negotiate with the rent strikers and has taken a different route than it did in 2020. “We very much regret having to do this,” said a University of Manchester spokesperson, “but the situation has been going on for a significant amount of time and has caused ongoing disruption to students and the people who work in the building.”
The number of UoM rent strikers grew to 350 students in March, although the university claims that only 44 students are technically on rent strike. The protestors, however, assert that the 350 students will withhold at least £500,000 during this academic year. Some, like UoM rent striker Fraser McGuire, believe that number could be even higher, saying “If they don’t find a way of either breaking the rent strike or giving in to the demands, then the amount of money being withheld could hit over £1.5 million.”
The next rent payment is due on April 20th, and organizers believe that their numbers will grow to at least 1,000 students. Today, UoM’s Student Union announced that 10,690 students voted to support the rent strike, with only 219 students voting against.
“It’s really reaching breaking point,” said McGuire, who was carried out of the Simon building by four N.E.T. officers. “I spoke to a lot of students in January about the rent strike, and a lot of them said things like, ‘I’m not really politically active, and I don’t know as much as I should, but I’m not going to be able to afford my rent, so I know something has to be done.'”