Around 1,000 students tore down fencing erected by the University of Manchester. Image Credit: Contributor

Student protests have caused the University of Manchester to reverse a controversial decision to fence off halls of residence. 

The U-turn comes less than 24 hours after barriers were erected around accommodation blocks and green spaces on the Fallowfield campus on November 5.

Around 1,000 people reportedly attended a protest at 8pm that evening which saw many of the fences displaced.

UoM President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, apologised for the decision an hour later.

Her statement said: “I sincerely apologise for the concern and distress caused by the erecting of a fence around our Fallowfield Halls of Residence today.

“This was not our intention – in fact quite the reverse.

“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.”

The fencing was erected as the November lockdown came into effect. Image Credit: Contributor

Students voiced anger over not being warned in advance of the move and raised concerns about mental wellbeing.

Residents dubbed the campus “HMP Fallowfield”, with the incident coming as the inquest opened into the death of UoM student Finn Kitson.

Mr Kitson was found dead in his hall of residence on Fallowfield campus on October 8.

One student, who wished to remain anonymous, was heavily critical of the “poorly executed” decision. They said: “It’s shameful, they made a huge decision on a whim and didn’t tell one student about it.

“Yet 10 minutes or so after the protests and the social media uproar they suddenly claim they’ll remove them tomorrow and that was never their intention.

“You ID people and check they’re a student; you don’t lock people in like animals.”

The UoM previously said that the move was planned prior to the new lockdown, which came into effect today.

There were concerns over student gatherings on the campus as Manchester tackles some of the highest coronavirus case rates in the country.

But Dame Rothwell promised the fences would be removed the following day following the student backlash.

“There was never any intent to prevent students from entering or exiting the site,” she added.

“The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately.

“Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols, are being put in place.

“I apologise once again for the issues caused by this incident.”