University launches inquiry after security fences erected around student halls

Students hold a protest
Students hold a protest (PA Media)
17:14pm, Fri 06 Nov 2020
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A university has launched an inquiry after security fences were erected around students’ halls of residence as the second lockdown began in England.

Angry students pulled down the barriers on the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield campus in protest on Thursday evening.

The fences had been erected as a “security measure” to “help avoid the mixing of households”, but this was not explained to students until after they went up.

The University of Manchester (UoM) has now launched an inquiry into the events to look into how and why the decision was taken to erect the fencing around the student halls on Thursday.

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

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

The University of Manchester said the fencing cost £11,000 for four-week hire, installation, inspection and removal of 534 metres.

In a statement on Friday, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of UoM, said: “Firstly, I want to apologise again for the distress caused by putting up the fence yesterday and the very poor communication surrounding this.

“I am determined to find out what went wrong and to learn from it. As a matter of urgency, I have commissioned an inquiry into these events.”

An inquiry – conducted by a former vice-president for teaching, learning and students – will examine how and why the decision to erect the fence on the campus was taken and how this decision was communicated to students.

The report will be submitted by the end of the month and the vice-chancellor will meet with student representatives from the halls “as soon as possible”.

Prof Rothwell added: “I know the events of yesterday were distressing for many students on a personal level at what is already a very difficult time. I’m sorry for that.

“I also regret that our actions led to protests and unrest at the residences last night.

“The fence has been removed today and, in consultation with students, additional security measures will be put in place to help to keep all of our residents safe.”

On Thursday, Joe Hindley, a 19-year-old first-year maths student, told the PA news agency: “We’ve just been really frustrated.

“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.”

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.

Mr 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,” he told PA. “It was a final breaking point for most students.”

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