Sheffield students occupy five university buildings

Students have taken direct action to combat department closures and support the UCU strikes.

Ella Winskell
19th February 2022
Image: Twitter (@rentstrikeUoS)
By the end of the UCU’s first week of organised striking, students at Sheffield University had occupied five of the campus’ most prominent buildings and most of its teaching spaces.

Their action comes in solidarity with lecturers striking across the country protesting ‘draconian’ cuts to pensions, the race and gender pay-gap, and failure to be given an adequate pay rise in the face of 7% inflation rates. On Monday 14th February, students entered the Jessop West building, unfurling banners reading “swipe left on wage theft” and “Archaeology now, who’s next?” - beginning the first of what would become five simultaneous occupations held over the course of the week.

Taking to Twitter, organisers declared their demands on Thursday as “Four fights, four buildings!” calling on university management to “support the UCU’s demands,” and halt the closure of it's archaeology department (announced last July in the face of international outcry and a petition reaching 45,000 signatures). Both the university and the student union have since put out statements, with union president Evie Croxford announcing that while “the group is acting independently of our Students’ Union,” the union “fully respect their right to peaceful protest and appreciate their commitment to affecting change through direct action”.

A university spokesperson also said “We are in contact with the students who are occupying the buildings and we hope that the situation is resolved as soon as possible.” An email was sent out to students notifying that teaching scheduled in the building during the occupation had been moved online.

However, on Friday 18th, tensions between the university management and occupants grew, as Sheffield's rentstrike Twitter account announced occupant's property was being held by security in a locked lecture theatre in the Hicks Building. The students could only retrieve their belongings on the condition that occupants provide ID, a description of their seized property and a signature in order to retrieve it. While the University of Sheffield declared the property as “lost” organisers are arguing that “quite clearly, the property inside could only belong to the occupiers,” and that the University’s actions are “an authoritarian attempt to force occupiers to provide their identity,”.

The same day, in concurrence with the Hicks property tensions and the final occupation of Fifth Court, the University began legal action against the occupants taking them to court for a possession order which. This was granted on Saturday, resulting in the announcement that occupiers would be ending their occupation of the Hicks, the Arts Tower, the Diamond, and Fifth Court sites. However, students still remain in Jessop Tower, pending the satisfaction of their requests - or an eviction order.

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