Another protest is being held tomorrow at Owens Park

“The mental health services offered by the university are not working: students … the £9,250 tuition fees we’re being forced to pay for an online course.

Another protest has been organised and is due to take place tomorrow afternoon at Owens Park, Fallowfield.

S.A.F.E.R, the group responsible for calling the protest has said to The Manchester Tab: “We are protesting the University’s lack of transparency and organisation amidst coronavirus.”

In a post on Instagram, S.A.F.E.R has asked those attending to “wear a mask and social distance.” They have also suggested that you should “make noise from your windows or raise your voice online if you are isolating.”

Credit: Felix Kwok, @felixcycat

The Manchester Tab caught up with S.A.F.E.R to ask them a number of questions about tomorrow’s protest:

What is it you are protesting for?

“Students, especially those living in halls, were encouraged to return to the University amidst promises of plans put in place to keep people physically and mentally safe.

“Over the last two months, the University has proved that these plans were not sufficient. Isolating students have been abandoned to their halls with little or no support – given out of date food packages, with some students even receiving said packages long AFTER they’d isolated. This is not good enough.

“The mental health services offered by the university are not working: students are struggling to get in contact with counselling, and the fact that only a severely limited student mental health service has been made available amidst Covid-19 is simply astounding.

“Mental health support is included in our tuition fees, but due to the current strain on these services, not all students are able to access them. We are paying for a service we are not receiving.

Credit: Sanad Battikhi

“The incident with the fences on Thursday, with no prior warning to students or on-campus staff implies that this was a snap decision and thus indicates that the University had not planned ahead for the inevitable second wave of coronavirus.

“Nancy Rothwell herself admitted to not knowing the extent of the installment, and to the poor communication that is such a prevalent issue within the university. This is not good enough.

“Students were also partially persuaded to come back this year under the promise of ‘blended learning’. Whilst S.A.F.E.R accepts that this is currently not possible due to lockdown, we demand justification regarding the £9,250 tuition fees we’re being forced to pay for an online course.

“The University of Manchester has so far been vague as to what our fees are currently funding outside of our education, and we feel we have a right to know why we are still being told to pay so much.

“Students’ safety must be prioritised physically, mentally, as well as financially and academically. We want transparency, and we want it now.”

Credit: Felix Kwok, @felixcycat

What are you hoping to achieve?

“Our aim is to have the University put a concrete plan in place to ensure the well-being of students. This would prioritise students’ physical safety during the pandemic: suitable support and care during isolation periods and on-site testing facilities.

“Furthermore, this plan must encompass the mental well-being of the students, vastly improving the current support available and establishing further support services specific to the student Covid-19 experience.

“Secondly, we demand transparency. This action plan must be communicated clearly to, and approved by, students. There are to be NO large decisions on behalf of the students without prior warning, especially those considering their physical safety.

“In addition, we want clear justification as to why we are still having to pay £9,250 for an online course that can be done from home.

Credit: Bex Hadfield

“We hope also to consolidate solidarity between students of all years. We need to show that we are united and will not be dismissed by the University or treated as a collective problem to be solved rather than as individuals that matter.

“The university needs to realise that we are human beings, not mindless consumers. Our voices have power and are louder together: we must come together and support one another at this time.”

Is this protest connected to the one that took place on Thursday?

“This protest is inspired by and aims to continue the momentum of the protest on Thursday, particularly in support of students living in halls.

“The fences incident and the lack of communication concerning this has demonstrated the extent to which students are not being prioritised, and this has to change. The university is responsible for thousands of young people and to not take their well-being seriously is extremely dangerous.”

Credit: Riona, Gareth, Phoebe and Millie

Will there be any speakers? What is the planned order of events?

“The protest will take place at Owen’s Park Campus at 2pm on Sunday 8th November.

“It will be socially distanced and masks must be worn.

“We will have speeches from several members of our organisation, S.A.F.E.R, and other students who wish to speak. We need to show a united front for the University to see, and demonstrate that their current treatment of students cannot and will not be allowed to continue.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We fully understand that these are challenging and difficult times for our students.

“During the pandemic we have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, this includes a partnership with a major food retailer, support on wellbeing and other practical matters.

“Extensive and varied mental health services are available for students. They include access to Togetherall – a 24/7 service for mental support, and a UK-first mental health centre for students which is run with the NHS. Next week we will be running a major mental health and wellbeing campaign. This will again highlight the extensive support already in place, introduce a new out-of-hours mental health service and give all students the opportunity to tell us what they are struggling with and suggest enhancements to how we can support them.

“Following recent feedback, next week we will also be announcing increased support for students in halls of residence, with additional online and on-site advice and support available.

“Our University believes in transparency and we publish information about how fees are spent on our website.

“We want to hear students’ ideas for improving safety on our campus sites and we would ask you to write to [email protected] with your suggestions.”

Featured Image (before edits): Sanad Battikhi & Riona

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