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University of Sheffield occupation: Lecturers and academic staff sign letter of solidarity against ‘marketisation of higher education’

Along with Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Sir Richard Roberts, staff members say: 'We, too, believe the goals of The Free University of Sheffield are laudable, and should be supported'

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Monday 07 March 2016 18:46
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Minesh Parekh, education officer at the students' union, pictured, has also said: 'We're currently suffering the most severe threats to universities in a generation'
Minesh Parekh, education officer at the students' union, pictured, has also said: 'We're currently suffering the most severe threats to universities in a generation'

Lecturers and academic staff at the University of Sheffield have been declaring their support for students who are occupying an auditorium over “the ongoing marketisation of higher education.”

In a letter of solidarity to the Independent, 42 signatories, so far - including a collective one from the Sheffield UCU Committee - have said they share their concerns about the increasing marketisation, and the implications this has for free academic discussion and debate.

The letter adds: “We would like to emphasise the occupation is not designed to disrupt learning. The occupiers have been fully supportive of any lectures that have gone ahead. Rather than disrupt learning, one of the key aims of the occupation is to question and rethink the nature of educational space.”

The staff’s move has come shortly after the occupiers sent an email to university management on 3 March over its decision to cancel classes, despite the students insisting their occupation is a peaceful one.

The email read: “The decision to reschedule seminars and lectures unconditionally - without consulting academics and allowing them to make discretionary decisions - also shows a lack of consideration for staff.

“We request a statement is made openly by the university, and distributed to all academic staff and management, categorically clarifying that lecturers who make the decision to resume teaching in the occupied space will not be penalised.

“We have nothing but respect and solidarity for the academics within our university and, as with our students, we have no wish to inconvenience them.”

Students from The Free University of Sheffield have been occupying the institution’s Richard Roberts Auditorium for a week now. Announcing their intent to occupy on 29 February, the group said: “We’re seeing students treated as consumers - to be passive recipients of information for the sake of employability - rather than producers of knowledge.

“Students have been cowed by fears about debt and failure in an increasingly competitive job market, purging the reciprocal engagement between academic and student which should underpin learning in the university.

“Through our occupation, we aim to protest these problems in the university and, more importantly, realise an alternative.”

Announcing how it has recently been issued with a possession order to appear in court on Tuesday, the students said: “The University of Sheffield is taking its own students to court tomorrow. We would greatly appreciate any expressions of solidarity and, as always, the occupation is in the Richard Roberts Building and open to all that want to join.”

Solidarity statement in full:

Further to the Independent’s article Free University of Sheffield campaigners occupy auditorium to highlight ‘assault on higher education’, we, the undersigned, write in solidarity with The Free University of Sheffield. The university has now begun legal action against the occupiers. On 3 March, they received a possession order which will come to court on 8 March.

Like Sir Richard Roberts - the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist after whom the lecture theatre the students occupy is named - we, too, believe the goals of The Free University of Sheffield are laudable, and should be supported.

We share their concerns about the increasing marketisation of higher education, and the implications this has for free academic discussion and debate. We would like to emphasise the occupation is not designed to disrupt learning. The occupiers have been fully supportive of any lectures that have gone ahead. Rather than disrupt learning, one of the key aims of the occupation is to question and rethink the nature of educational space.

Signed,

Dr Umberto Albarella, Reader in Zooarchaeology

Dr Ansgar Allen, Lecturer in Education

Dr Caroline Bland, Senior Lecturer in German

Craig Brandist, Professor of Cultural Theory and Intellectual History

Dr Harriet Cameron, Academic Director, ELTC

Dr Matthew Cheeseman, University Teacher

Dr Esme Cleall, Lecturer in the History of the British Empire

Dr Alasdair Cochrane, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory

Dr Fabienne Collignon, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature

Dr James Cranch, Teaching Fellow, School of Mathematics and Statistics

Keith Faulkner, Initial Teacher Education Tutor

Dr Roy Goddard, Honorary Lecturer

Dr Maxime Goergen, Lecturer in French

Dr Alice Honor Gavin, Lecturer in Fiction and Writing

Jamie Gough, Senior Lecturer in Town and Regional Planning​

Professor Graham Harrison, Department of Politics​

Dr Helena Ifill, University Teacher

Dr Matthew Malek, Lecturer in Experimental Particle Physics

Dr Sam Marsh, University Teacher, School of Mathematics and Statistics

Dr Lucy Mayblin, Research Fellow, Politics

Dr David McCallum, Reader in French

Dr China Mills, Lecturer in Critical Educational Psychology

Dr Emma Moore, Senior Lecturer in Sociolinguistics

Dr George Nicholson, Reader in Composition​

Dr Owen Parker, Senior Lecturer in European Politics

Dr Sarah Pogoda, Lector in German​

Dr Lisa Procter, Lecturer in Early Childhood Education

Dr Melanie Richter-Montpetit, Lecturer in Politics

Dr Simon Rushton, Lecturer in Politics

Dr Tom Stafford, Lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science

Dr Adam Stansbie, Lecturer in Music

Dr Peter Thompson, Reader in German (retired)

Dr Joe Turner, University Teacher, Politics

Dr Marcia Vera Espinoza. Postdoctoral Research Associate, Politics

Dr Peter Watt, Lecturer in Hispanic Studies

Dr Sophie Watt, Lecturer in French Studies

Dr Darren Webb, Senior Lecturer in Education

Dr Anthony Williams, Lecturer in Psychology of Education

Dr Lizzie Wright, Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Archaeology

Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice, Lecturer in Early Childhood Education

Dr Karine Zbinden, Senior French Lectrice in French Studies

Sheffield UCU Committee​

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