Enquiry launched into security fence at Manchester halls, confirms VC

Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell faced criticism for the university’s communication with students

The vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester has “unreservedly” apologised for “the possibly misguided” decision to erect a fence around a hall of residence yesterday and will launch an enquiry into the situation.

Protestors were filmed last night pulling down the barriers that surrounded the Fallowfield Halls of Residence. The university has confirmed students were not told about the erection of the fence before workers began work yesterday morning.

During a live streamed interview on Facebook with the university student newspaper The Mancunion, Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell said: “First of all the intention of the fences was never to restrict the movement of our students. We had no intention to do that and no authority to do that.

“The fences were put up with good intent – although [we were] possibly misguided in the way we did it – but they were put up because of many, many complaints from student residences about intrusion into the residences from non-residents, and in some cases criminal behaviour.

“It was purely intended for the safety of students, but we realise now, and the reason we have taken it down, it caused great distress and for that I unreservedly apologise, and we failed in the communication for the reasons for it.”

The Manchester VC said the decision to remove the fence was taken “well before the protests started” last night, “but it was by then dark, so they were going to come down this morning”.

Prof Rothwell confirmed there had been reports of illegal parties, gatherings “and more besides” at the Fallowfield halls of residence; the matters had been referred to the police, she added. Greater Manchester has been under tier 3 restrictions since 23 October, which specifically ban social gatherings and parties.

Enquiry launched into security fence at Manchester halls, confirms VC prof dame nancy rothwell
Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell was interviewed by student newspaper The Mancunion this morning

Pressed on her role in the decision to erect the temporary barricade, Prof Rothwell explained: “I was aware a fence of some nature was going up a couple of days ago but not of the scale and not of the communications, which obviously we have not handled well.

“For that reason, we have launched an immediate enquiry into how those decisions were taken. That will report within two weeks, it will be fully published and will be public, so we can learn lessons from it. I’m not after a witch-hunt, but I do want to understand what went wrong and what caused such distress to our students, which again I regret.”

Prof Rothwell said she “was not aware” of who made the decision but said the enquiry would confirm who was responsible. “Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place,” she continued. The university would “looking hard at investing very significant sums” into secure access at its halls of residences.

The long-serving Manchester VC reflected that communications between the university and students would need to improve.

The event comes as tensions increase over the way universities in England are been treated under the government’s lockdown rules. HE students have been told not to move back and forward between their permanent homes and student homes during term time; the government has said they should only return home at the end of term.

The National Union of Students and the University and College Union yesterday jointly condemned the government decision.

Header image via Flickr.

Read more: University ombudsman outlines plans for group complaints from students

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