NEWS
06/11/2020 09:37 GMT | Updated 06/11/2020 09:59 GMT

'Like The Berlin Wall' – Manchester University Students Tear Down Covid Security Fences In Protest

The university has apologised for fencing students in after weeks of frustration over online lectures and Covid outbreaks on campus.

Furious students whose campus was caged in by their uni without warning tore down the fences in protest last night.

It came after weeks of growing anger and resentment that young people had been “lured” to universities across the country, at a cost of thousands of pounds, only to find lectures had moved online and that their halls of residence were anything but Covid-secure.

The two-metre metal barriers went up on Thursday at the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield campus as a “security measure” to “help avoid the mixing of households”, the uni told HuffPost UK.

But the measure – which was not explained to students until the fences had gone up – was the final straw for students, who protested on Thursday evening and pulled the barriers down.

PA
Handout photo courtesy of Joe Hindley of students at University of Manchester's Fallowfield campus, angered by fences put up around their halls of residence, who have pulled down the barriers in protest

One first year law student contacted HuffPost UK to say the campus felt “eerie… a bit like a prison”.

The university subsequently issued an apology and said the fences would be removed on Friday.

Joe Hindley, a 19-year-old first-year maths student, told the PA news agency: “We’ve just been really frustrated. It feels like a kick in the balls.

“There’s no benefit we can see to them being up.

“They’ve said something about it increasing our safety but from what we can see it’s a complete waste of money.”

PA
Handout photo courtesy of Ben McGowan of students at University of Manchester's Fallowfield campus

The fences were put up around the outside of the campus, with security checks on the way in, and between blocks.

While they did not prevent students from entering or exiting the campus, they did bar passage between the different blocks of halls.

Ben McGowan, a first year politics and sociology student, said the reaction from students was an accumulation of frustration built up since they arrived in September, with students subjected to lockdowns and restrictions, with fines for some who broke the rules.

McGowan, 18, said he had been disappointed with how the university has handled the coronavirus situation, saying he felt there had not been enough support or guidance.

“I think there was a boiling point when they put up those fences,” said. “It was a final breaking point for most students.”

McGowan said he was unimpressed with the apology and that it was “way too late”.

He added: “It showed just how badly thought through it was.”

In an email received by students shortly before 8.30pm on Thursday, the university’s president and vice-chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell apologised for causing “concern and distress” by putting up the fences.

“This was not our intention – in fact quite the reverse,” she said.

“The fencing was intended as a response to a number of concerns received over recent weeks from staff and students about safety and security; particularly about access by people who are not residents.

“There was never any intent to prevent you or other residents of our halls from entering or exiting the site.”

She added that the fences would be removed on Friday, and alternative measures “including additional security patrols” would be brought in instead.

This year’s freshers cohort lost out on months of teaching when the pandemic hit, cancelling the final stretch of their A-levels and ultimately all their exams.

That led to a national fiasco that saw them instead given estimated grades by a faulty Ofqual algorithm that favoured wealthier areas, robbing many students of their first-choice university places and sparking a national outcry that eventually saw the government back down and deliver grades on teachers’ assessments instead.

Last month students at Manchester University – as well as others from Bristol – organised rent strikes to protest their treatment while in isolation.

Many complained of being sent unsuitable food boxes, either with not enough food or food that does not match their dietary requirements, and students who needed sanitary products not being given them.

Around 40,000 students attend Manchester University, which has a staff of around 12,500. It was the site of one of the earliest and largest spikes in student coronavirus cases after reopening six weeks ago.

In an update on coronavirus infection rates last month, the university said positive student cases had increased very rapidly from almost no cases to over 200 in just four days. It added that reported infections were now declining.