Rent strikers slam Sheffield SU as ‘puppet to uni’ with ‘serious transparency problems’

The SU has come under fire

Sheffield University’s Students’ Union has been accused by rent strike activists of being a “puppet to the university” with “really serious transparency problems”.

The heavy criticism comes after the Union has still not publicly declared its support for the rent strike – despite the fact a motion for it to do so was unanimously passed by 45 votes to zero in the council a month ago.

Dan Walsh, Chair of the Rent Strike Committee, told The Tab: “SU support (for the rent strike) has been lukewarm. It has really serious problems with transparency and being a genuine Students’ Union.

“At times they’re nice, warm and genuine. But at others it feels like they’re going back on their word, trying to sweep us under the carpet and deal with us later.”

Sheffield currently has 103 students on rent strike. They’re calling upon the university to cut rent by 30 percent and offer students a no-penalty early release clause from contracts.

“There are people in the SU who support us, but as an institution it’s a puppet of the university. It’s no wonder when you consider there are some full-time employees who are not students and have no idea what it’s like to be a student in a pandemic,” Walsh said.

“The SU is trying to pursue their own agenda. They bog us down in bureaucracy and technologies, with precise policy word counts for example.”

Previously, the SU has publically supported strikes – including the UCU strikes that saw students lose weeks of teaching in 2020.

The Union has pushed the university to refund around £4 million to students in university accommodation for the last two weeks of term, as well as unsuccessfully chasing refunds from private landlords.

But rent strikers say this isn’t enough and point to the student mental health crisis, tuition fees, and the awful experience a lot of students have had with university this year.

Beth Eyre, President of the Students’ Union, said: “The SU officer team is focused on delivery rather than bureaucracy, as seen through the £4 million back in University accommodation refunds as well as a £3 million covid relief fund which includes refunds for unnecessary rent.

“This is one of the most generous financial packages given to students from any UK university and was secured by the Students’ Union Officer team. We have a multitude of channels for listening to student voices, SU Council is just one, alongside one thousand academic reps, our surveys and the emails we receive directly from students.

“This is a time that student campaigns across the country need to be working together and directing our pressure at the government, who have forgotten students at every turn. Our agenda is to demand a better experience and further compensation for the Forgotten Students of the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield said: “We understand this has been an incredibly difficult year for students and throughout the pandemic we have been working closely with the Students’ Union to ensure we are supporting students in the best possible way.

“All of our support services are open and available online. Students who are self-isolating are offered a fast track to mental health support. We also contact all students who have notified us that they are self-isolating to check on their welfare and offer practical and emotional support. All students also have 24/7 access to emotional and mental health advice through the TogetherAll service.

“As part of our continued efforts to enhance our support provision in line with changing circumstances, the University also established a £3 million Covid-19 Support Fund for any students who are facing particular challenges, for example to help with costs incurred to improve IT connectivity for studying remotely. We will continue listening to our students and reviewing the issues they raise, as well as working with the Students’ Union to ensure we are providing students with the most effective and appropriate support.”