The University and College Union branch at the University of Sheffield have released an open letter from their committee, addressed to the University, calling on them to communicate with students about industrial action.

This follows, they say, a petition which was launched by one of Sheffield UCU’s members asking the University to release their response to recent consultations run by Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which were aimed at ending the two ongoing industrial disputes.

Lecturers and support staff are currently in the midst of a second phase of strike action of the academic year, with UCU members at the University of Sheffield one of 48 branches where staff are on strike over pensions, pay equality, casualization in the sector, and more.

In the letter, which is signed by Sam March, the local branch president, on behalf of the Sheffield UCU executive, it says: “We read with interest the leaked minutes of the recent Russell Group meeting on casualisation and the subsequent press release. We are delighted to see that leaders in this part of the sector have finally grasped a central tenet of our work: that staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and that the erosion of our pay and conditions over the last decade have had a significantly negative impact on higher education as a whole.

“You may be aware that in recent days one of our members has started a petition calling on you to make public your response to recent consultations conducted by UUK and UCEA. Our members gathered over 1,500 signatures in three days on this petition on the 3rd through 5th of March, and have received in excess of 200 more online.

“Signatories include students as well as striking and non-striking staff – people across our community who are currently being affected by the disruption.

“We are adding our voice to those questions again here, and ask that you follow the example of your peers at the Universities of Keele, Cambridge, Manchester and Heriot-Watt in being willing to engage in public discussion of the issues currently affecting all of us.”

The afore-mentioned consultations were run by two of the universities’ national governing bodies, and aimed to end the ongoing industrial action by asking universities if they were willing to pay a higher percentage of increased pension costs. The proposals fell, however, and the industrial action has continued.

In a statement to Forge Press, Sheffield UCU added: “Currently, VCs across the sector are hiding behind their representative bodies, UUK and UCEA, instead of being publicly accountable for their responses to consultations which have the potential to resolve our disputes.

“Right now, HE needs sector leaders to come forward and commit to prioritising staff and students, and we hope Koen Lamberts will be among them.”

Students across the country have seen nearly 22 days of strike action so far this academic year, and strikes are set to continue all of next week before eventually drawing to a close. Over the past two weeks, staff have been picketing outside Sheffield University buildings, while nationwide the UCU estimate that 1.2 million students have been affected.

“We are disappointed that University management have thus far refused to make public their response to UUK’s consultation,” said Charlie Porter, Sheffield SU Education Officer.

“It is essential that VC’s across the country act with full transparency and show students that they are doing everything they can to bring an end to this dispute.”

Professor Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “The University has responded to consultations from both Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) and as a participant in these national negotiations, we are expected to work together as a collective.

“As I outlined to our staff earlier this week, I firmly believe that the University is in a stronger position to influence the national approach if it is within the group than standing as a lone voice outside of it by making a public statement about the details of our response. As a prominent party in this dispute, I want to assure students and staff that our position is clearly understood by our representatives.

“We continue to speak regularly with SU Officers as the representatives of our students, and with UCU colleagues and we are keen to maintain this open dialogue as we work through what is a very challenging period for all of us.

“We will continue to do all we can to encourage our national representatives to find a resolution to this dispute.” 

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