Student occupation of university building will continue despite legal threats

Written by Mark Harrison

Legal proceedings are being considered by the University of Sheffield to put a halt to the occupation of a campus building by students demanding a 30% rent reduction.

The University of Sheffield is currently trying to obtain an interim possession order to remove the demonstrators from the Arts Tower near Weston Park.

The occupation began at 5am on 23 April. Students entered the buildings and sealed off doors using bike locks and plan to stay indefinitely.

Dan, a first-year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Sheffield, told Sheffield Wire: “After 103 students have been on rent strike since January the university has never acknowledged it properly, even though we have all sent individual emails to the Vice-Chancellor.

“Universities are there to serve students but at the moment this feels like it is being run like a private business. All we have wanted is a conversation with the Vice-Chancellor, we have been forced into doing this occupation.”

The group of students, who communicate via the @rentstrikeUoS Twitter account, are demanding a rebate for students who have lived in student accommodation over the lockdown.

They are demanding a rent reduction of 30% for the remainder of the academic year and a refund of 30% on rent paid from January, a no-penalty early release clause from contracts, and for all students to be offered a full refund of rent for the duration of the recent national lockdown.

The final date for rent payment for students at University of Sheffield accommodation is 6 May.

Some students have received automatic refunds or rent reductions, but only if they have not been living in their accommodation during the pandemic.

A University of Sheffield spokesperson said: “The University has not charged rent to students who are unable to make use of their university owned or managed accommodation due to the government’s restrictions and had established a £3 million COVID Support Fund for those facing financial difficulties.

“While the University cannot control the decisions of private landlords, we are continuing to work closely with the Student’s Union to ensure we are providing students with the most effective and appropriate support.”

The students say the university has not done enough to compensate for the “complete disregard for our safety and wellbeing”, and that all students should be given reductions and refunds.

Dan pointed to the university selling ‘essential’ food and toiletry packages for self-isolating students for £49.25, vegetarian food packages that contained meat products, and mental health support in the form of colouring books and origami sets, as examples of the university’s failure to provide adequate support.

The University of Sheffield occupation has taken place in coordination with Sheffield Hallam, as well as students from University of Nottingham and University of Manchester.

Regarding the organised efforts, Dan said: “It’s been coordinated since January among the different universities so we can get national press.”

After entering the buildings, students unfurled large banners protesting against their treatment by the university.

The students occupying the Arts Tower have been denied access to kettles and microwaves on health and safety grounds, and were told not to obstruct the fire exits.

Yet, the students later discovered the security team had locked the fire doors, contradicting the  regulations issued to the students.

 

Written by Mark Harrison

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