Students at the University of Manchester have passed a vote of no confidence in its vice-chancellor.
Dame Nancy Rothwell has faced opposition over the university’s handling of the pandemic during the academic year, which included the erection of security fences around students’ halls of residence.
Students have now delivered a vote of no confidence in Dame Nancy and her senior management team.
Some 89% of the students who took part in a referendum said they agreed with the statement that the student body had “no confidence” in the vice-chancellor and other leaders at the institution.
The vote is non-binding and it will have to be considered by the university’s board of governors.
In November last year, Dame Nancy told BBC Newsnight that she had apologised to 19-year-old student Zach Adan who was allegedly racially profiled by security guards as he returned to his halls of residence.
The incident came amid ongoing protests by students who were campaigning for rent reductions after their face-to-face classes were halted and they experienced a series of issues with accommodation.
As part of the protests, students occupied the Owens Park Tower building in Fallowfield.
Protests also erupted on campus during the autumn term as the second lockdown began in England when a wire fence was erected overnight around accommodation without students being consulted.
Students pulled down the barriers on the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield campus in protest.
The referendum was held by the Students’ Union after a petition met the threshold number of signatures to trigger a vote.
A total of 4,590 students backed the no-confidence motion.
A spokesperson for the student-led campaign group, which has been calling for Dame Nancy to be removed from her post, said: “It’s now clear that the positions of Nancy Rothwell and her management are completely untenable having lost the support of the staff, students and thus the entire university.
“This is a historic vote and one we believe to be the first in the history of the University of Manchester.
“It’s apparent to anyone that the mistreatment of students and mishandling of the pandemic by the university over the past year has become an exemplar of how not to run a university.”
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said: “This overwhelming vote of no confidence is no surprise. Nancy Rothwell has treated students at Manchester shamefully.
“She irresponsibly brought students back to campus to secure income from fees and rent and then locked them in their accommodation, and has failed to address racial profiling on campus.
“Universities should be governed democratically, with management properly reflecting the will and needs of students and staff.
“Those who study and work at the University of Manchester deserve better, more representative leadership. Nancy Rothwell’s resignation would be a positive first step towards this.”
A statement from the University of Manchester’s board of governors said: “We have seen the result of the student referendum and note that the turnout was 13% of our student population.
“The board has been fully briefed throughout the period of the pandemic, holding additional meetings as and when required.
“Having been rigorous in holding the senior leadership to account, the unanimous position of the board is that we have full confidence in them to lead the university forward, and in particular in Nancy Rothwell, who has led the university with vision, compassion and distinction for the past 10 years.”
It adds: “Whilst our senior leaders haven’t got everything right, where that has been the case, they have led from the front by apologising and have always taken action to ensure lessons are learnt and improvements are made.
“The university remains focused on delivering the best learning experience possible and supporting the wellbeing of our students, staff and wider local community. Students are at the heart of our university.”