Manchester University students have received an apology from the university for a fence erected without warning, but are still angry, saying there is no genuine care for their mental health. 

Manchester students tore down a “prison-like” fence that the university erected around their halls on the first day of England’s second lockdown.

University of Manchester’s students at Fallowfield halls of residence woke up on Thursday to see construction workers putting up the metal barriers around their buildings with no explanation or warning.

Students organised an emergency protest on Thursday evening outside Owen’s Park Hall courtyard, and hundreds attended to hear speeches and eventually pull down the structures.

Many accused the university of caging students in a lockdown-type prison, but Manchester University denied this was the case.

The university apologised for the distress caused and maintained they had erected the fence for the safety of students, to stop outsiders from gaining access to the premises.

“The fencing was intended as a response to a number of concerns received over recent weeks from staff and students on this site about safety and security; particularly about access by people who are not residents. There was never any intent to prevent students from entering or exiting the site,” President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said.

“The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately,” she added.

The protest was a symptom of the anger and frustration at the lack of communication from the university, students said.

“We woke up without having been given a warning to mentally prepare to fences being erected around campus. The fences were put all around our common exercise spaces which is included in the rent we pay,” Barnaby, a first year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student told the reporters

“We kept asking construction people putting them up what they were and we kept being told ‘it was information they couldn’t tell us’ or ‘we have no idea’ eventually they kept popping up in more and more places and it became clear what they were,” explained Ben McGowan, a first year Politics and Sociology student.

Tweets and images of the fences began to circulate on Twitter, with many students sharing the anxiety of having woken up to it.

The university reportedly emailed the students hours after the fences had been erected, saying it was for their safety to ensure households did not mix in student halls.

Students quickly organised the protest for 8 pm in one of the main courtyards outside Owen’s Park Hall, inside the fencing, where hundreds gathered to hear speeches and stand against the university.

Some began rattling the cages, Ben McGowan, a first year Politics and Sociology student told media

Realising how quickly they could come down, many began tugging at the structures until they fell.

“It’s just stunning how ludicrous of an idea it was; the speed of the u-turn speed showed that”, he added.

“I think there was three hours between the email I got explaining why the fence was up and the email apologising and saying it was coming down.”

The fences may have come down but students are angry, saying this highlights the university’s hypocrisy amid spiralling student mental health.

While the rest of the country has now started lockdown, the Government has specified that universities should remain open and students must not return home.

“The uni has claimed to care about our mental health, yet are fencing off exercise space (exercise being key to mental health),” Barnaby said.

“Earlier in the semester, there was a suicide on campus, a minutes silence was held during the protest in memory of them. Have the uni not learnt?,” he added.

On top of this, he’s afraid of being stuck in student halls through Christmas with no exit plan to see his family. The Government is not trying to provide students answers on this, he feels.

“It definitely feels like, once the uni got us here and got us to pay 9k, they really don’t care beyond that point,” McGowan added.

Sources from High Education News