An occupation of Sheffield University’s Arts Tower by students protesting at proposed changes to staff pensions has forced the cancellation of architecture seminars for the second day running
The university said fire exits were barricaded and teaching would be disrupted following an occupation of the Arts Tower on Wednesday (14 March). The School of Architecture is based within the building, along with various management functions.
A group calling itself Sheffield Student Worker Solidarity said it organised the protest in solidarity with staff body the University and College Union, which on Tuesday rejected a proposal to end an ongoing dispute over further education pensions.
It has demanded that the university resist the proposed pension changes as well as freeze student accommodation rent levels and international student fees and said it intended to maintain occupation of the building ‘until management make considerable concessions to these demands’.
Defending its actions as a response to ‘the vicious attacks Universities UK has carried out on staff pensions nationwide’, Sheffield Student Worker Solidarity took to Facebook to explain its actions to architecture students, who are particularly hit by the occupation.
Its Facebook post began: ‘Dear students in the Architecture and Landscape Department, As you may know, the Arts Tower is currently under occupation and the space is now controlled by students. We did not come to this decision lightly and hope to give you a little more insight into the reasons we a retaking this action.’
Later it continued: ‘We will be making every effort to keep the space as open as possible, allowing students like yourselves to retrieve important pieces of coursework or even join the occupation.’
One architecture student, Ellie Piper, responded on Facebook: ‘I don’t think you understand that as architecture students we work every day in the Arts Tower and need it facilities. […] We are being completely messed up here and are being punished. We all support the strikes but this is directly affecting our education, which isn’t fair.’
We all support the strikes but this is directly affecting our education, which isn’t fair
The AJ understands that third year students are scheduled to have reviews this week, leaving some unable to retrieve their work from the Arts Tower.
On Thursday morning architecture students gathered at the Arts Tower to protest about not having access to the building, saying their deadlines have not been extended as the sit-in protesters had demanded.
Masters architecture student Matthew Forbes-Yandi told the AJ: ’We have had our building hijacked, and our education disrupted […] at the end of the day, it only detracts from the bigger issue here – the fact of the matter being our valued tutors are having great reductions in their financial future.’
A statement by the university said: ‘The Arts Tower has been occupied and physical barriers to fire exits are currently in place. On that basis, there is currently no access to the Arts Tower and staff based there should contact their line manager and agree local working arrangements until further notice.
‘Students who are due to receive lectures, seminars and tutorials in the building will be contacted separately and informed as soon as a rearranged timetable has been reviewed. This will take time so today’s teaching will be disrupted.’
Architect Danni Kerr, who is also a registered PhD student at the school, a sole practitioner working on projects in the city and also teaches at the school on a contract basis, said she fully supported the occupation. Kerr tweeted: ‘I had to rearrange a job interview for a staff position which was scheduled for today at the Arts Tower. Nevertheless I support this action and have cancelled my teaching for the remainder of this week.’
Kerr, who was made one of 12 role models by the RIBA in 2015, told the AJ that she was not at the site of the demonstration, but was made aware of it by an architecture student.
Professor Karim Hadjri, head of the architecture school, insisted the protesters were ‘not architecture students’ and added ‘there are no staff involved’.
Occupations are currently happening in universities across the UK, including the University of Cambridge, the University of Bath and the University of Aberdeen.
Sheffield uni students are trying to complete their degrees (+PAYING LOTS OF FEES)this isn’t fair https://t.co/iaDmV2CjBX— Alison Ruff (@ruff_alison) March 15, 2018
Currently completely shut down and occupied. Solidarity with the strike. ✊ pic.twitter.com/SLgiNR6zSc— free uni of sheff (@freeunisheff) March 14, 2018