Students have hit out at the “shameful” and “inconsistent” offering of direct payments by the University of Sheffield for the havoc wreaked when hundreds of lecturers went on strike last year.
Thousands demanded a tuition fee refund as lecture halls were deserted at 65 universities nationwide, after members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) struck over proposed changes to their pensions.
But Forge Press can reveal that the English department has offered every student the chance to apply for £100, while students in other departments received no direct payment.
It comes after hundreds of University staff staged 14 days of walk-outs in February and March last year.
Where did all the tuition fees go? Who knows
Students have expressed anger to Forge Press at the University’s failure to give all students the same opportunity to receive the money, and the lack of transparency in how the funds were allocated.
It has been branded “a joke” by students from other departments who went for six weeks without any lectures or seminars while continuing to pay hundreds of pounds in tuition fees for the privilege.
It has emerged that the University met with the Sheffield UCU branch and Sheffield SU to agree that £1,122,511 was saved in staff salaries during the strike period.
However, despite not receiving lectures during the strike periods, there has been no refund or compensation for tuition fees – totalling £9,250 a year for UK students and up to thousands more for international students.
Departments have been bidding for the funds to channel into projects, rather than directly compensating students – despite more than 7,500 students petitioning for £300 over the upset to their studies.
Of the many areas funded following successful departmental bids, mental health saw the largest investment, with £464,000 spent on a new counsellor and five wellbeing advisers based in departments.
A spokesperson from the University of Sheffield said: “We agreed that the money which was not paid to those striking would be allocated to provide additional support to benefit students across the University – including greater access to mental wellbeing support, improving study spaces and supporting students with fieldwork and dissertation costs. We have published full details of how this money has been allocated on our website.”
£15,000 for new IC lamps branded ‘dreadful’
But further analysis of the figures raise questions from students around transparency and whether the money could have been better spent. Some £130,000 was spent on new desks in the Information Commons library, and another £15,000 was spent on new “study lamps” in the IC.
Branded “absolutely dreadful” by one student, the strike money was also used to “replac[e] IT system[s]”, costing £35,000, and £10,000 was thrown into helping a student “build a garden” for a competition.
One second-year Sociology student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the University’s response to the strike fails to build faith. He said: “The complacency in compensating us makes me question what the University’s priorities are.”
The UCU estimated that the strike saw a total of 575,000 contact hours lost, with one million students disrupted nationwide.
The University claims £134,331 was left over from its ‘beneficial’ spending spree, which has been allocated equally across the five faculties, who have decided where to place the money.
Lack of transparency following strikes
But a third-year Politics student, who also wished to remain anonymous, questioned the transparency of the process.
He said: “I think that regardless of whether the English department is being prioritised or not, there’s a wider issue regarding how money is being allocated between and within departments. The UCU doesn’t represent us.”
The Sociology student added: “Where’s the democratic process considering all students, not just English, were left for weeks on end with no structure? It definitely only further puts students off the cause.”
Many exams had to be adjusted to address the incomplete curriculums, with one student telling Forge Press that his loss of motivation and organisation during the strike period was influential in him taking a leave of absence.
Thousands of students affected by the strikes signed up to a lawsuit to claim compensation, prompting the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), the higher education complaints watchdog, to order universities to pay up.
There was widespread disgruntlement when a group of hard-left students from the Free University of Sheffield group held the Arts Tower hostage at the end of the strike period, preventing staff and students from working.
In October the University of Sheffield UCU branch was among seven institutions in the country to reach the 50 per cent threshold to back further strike action.