‘It’s the last resort’: University of Sheffield archaeologists join UCU strikes

Written by Liam O'Connor

University of Sheffield archaeologists will join the frontline of UCU strike action next Wednesday, as 58 universities across the UK brace for three days of industrial action.

Union members voted across a ballot window of three weeks and delivered what the UCU described as a “clear mandate” for strike action, with 76% of members voting for strike action and 88% voting for action short of strike.

One of the contributing factors for this industrial action in Sheffield is the closure of the University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology, announced back in July. This caused outrage domestically and globally, with over 48,000 signing the petition to “Save Sheffield’s Archaeology Department.”

The University of Sheffield cited a ‘”significant decline” as one of the reasons for the closure – with only 10 undergraduate students receiving offers this year.

‘We don’t feel like we matter’

 

Although the closure of the archaeology department is not the main reason for industrial striking across the UK, for many at the University of Sheffield, these strikes will provide an opportunity to protest at the “cultural vandalism” impacting educational institutions across the UK.

 

Dr Angelos Hadjikoumis, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Sheffield said: “The decision to strike is not one that was taken lightly. We have taken this decision after months and months of effort to discuss with the university alternative options.

“It’s the last resort. We have the public opinion which is shown by the tens of thousands of signatures and thousands of letters sent by many of our students and alumni.”

Dr Angelos Hadjikoumis, University of Sheffield zooarchaeologist at a Neolithic site in Cyprus

Second-year Archaeology student Luke Hepworth-Poritt said: “When we first heard, it wasn’t confirmed, so we thought maybe we could save it or they would change their mind, but now we know we can’t save it it’s very demoralising.

“We don’t feel like we matter as students and as lecturers and our discipline as a whole doesn’t really matter, it’s not important enough for the university to keep on”

“I will be attending the strike. I’m hoping we get our voices heard and are taken seriously. I hope we achieve the goals and show that we matter, that archaeology matters, the lecturers’ matter and the students matter.

Support for these strikes is not unilateral, with many believing industrial action is unjust to students whose education is impacted.

These strikes will mark the fourth year in a row of industrial action, with a total of 36 days of teaching time effected by strikes between 2018-2020.

 

Some users took to Sheffieldforum.co.uk to voice their disapproval of the proposed industrial action

 

A third-year history student said: “Luckily I’m not really effected by the strikes this year so from a personal point of view I’m not too bothered.

“I do have sympathy for those protesting and hope they get what they’re trying to achieve, although I’m not sure a three-day strike will really change much in the long-term.”

A second-year mechanical engineering student said: “The strikes last year were a lot worse as they were around two weeks or so, plus we had to deal with COVID resulting in online classes on top of that.

“I know staff have also been treated unfairly but purely from my perspective we’re paying huge amounts of money for learning and don’t receive any compensation”.

‘Is that going to happen to my course next?’

 

While there is growing frustration among students and parents about the growing number of teaching days missed, there are still many students who endorse the industrial action.

Zac Larkham, a second-year politics and sociology student at Sheffield Hallam and member of the Sheffield Solidarity group expressed his support for those striking.

He said: “These strikes will happen regardless of what students do, the question is what we do in the meantime, the more people we have behind the strikes, the less disruption it will cause students in the long-run.

“Students should look at what they are doing to the archaeology department. It’s one of the leading departments in that area in the country, it brings in more money than it costs. So students should be looking at this situation and wondering, ‘is that going to happen to my course next’?

“Lecturers and university staff are some of the only people at the universities that actually do give a s**t about the students. All students are doing by saying they don’t support the strike is playing into the hands of those at the top who don’t give a f**k about us.”

When asked for comment, the University of Sheffield sent a pre-published statement:

“The upcoming three days of strike action are unlikely to affect the majority of students at the University of Sheffield. Our priority is to minimise disruption for those students affected to ensure that learning and teaching continues to be delivered. Student support services will continue to be available and we will be communicating regularly with our students and staff to let them know about any changes that may occur as a result of the strike action.

“We will continue to work with our local trade unions and encourage them to work with UCU at a national level to explore ways to resolve these disputes.”

 

Written by Liam O'Connor

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