Editor’s Note: Unfortunately disruption has made this edition of The Badger a little different. Unavoidable circumstances meant that this edition was delayed. Consequently, some of these articles are a little older and we haven’t been able to get the newest stories to you this time. However, we think that it is fair that those who wrote great articles have them published, and these important stories are read by you.
Words by Olly DeHerrera, Features Editor
As staff and students enter the second week of strike action at the University of Sussex, a number of students have staged a sit-in at the Jubilee Lecture Hall, the university’s largest capacity lecture theatre.
An organisation called Sussex Solidarity Network has claimed responsibility for the action via an Instagram page, @sussexsolidarity. According to a statement posted yesterday: “15 students have occupied the jubilee building on Sussex campus in solidarity with the University and Colleges Union (UCU) who are currently halfway through 10 days of strike action”.
“We are also here because we’re dissatisfied with our university’s lack of meaningful commitment to liberating higher education. Our most recent, but certainly not exclusive, issue with management is their failure to provide proper support for staff to facilitate access to hybrid learning.”
The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has called 10 days of strike action this term, effecting dates from the 14th of february to the 2nd of march and active across 68 different universities in the UK. A statement from the UCU’s website states the strike’s main aims are to: “address the scandal of the gender, ethnic, and disability pay gap, end contract casualisation and job insecurity, tackle the rising workloads driving our members to breaking point, increase to all spine points on the national pay scale of £2,500”. It continues “UCU members want to be at work, not on strike, but the future of higher education is under threat. Growing inequality affects both students and staff – poor working conditions mean poor learning conditions.”
In addressing the strike action on the university managed Sussex Student Hub, the university stated: “The strikes are related to pensions and pay and conditions and are not things we can solve here at Sussex.”
SussexSolidarity’s Instagram reports that a letter to the group of students was pushed through the glass doors of the Jubilee East Foyer in the early afternoon, as well as several legal notices appearing taped onto the glass doors. In part, the letter stated, “we will give you an hour to vacate the premises, and would urge you to do this. If you decide not to vacate the premises then we will be taking disciplinary action against everyone known to be involved”. The letter is signed in print “Jayne Aldridge, Head of Student Experience” but does not contain a university header or timestamp.
The Badger made contact with an anonymous student inside the Jubilee lecture theatre who said of the letter, “It’s absolutely unsurprising and fits into pattern of university behaviour”, “they [The University of Sussex] are concerned with saving face and saving pennies, not concerned for student welfare or staff conditions”. The student continued “[the letter] was done very informally, not dated, no header, not properly delivered – it’s a classic lack of accountability”. The student informed The Badger that following receiving the letter, the students democratically decided to continue their action, “sticking to our initial demands.”
SussexSolidarity’s demands for the University to “facilitate access to hybrid learning” follow a wave of criticism against the University’s apparent move to phase-out online options for accessing teaching. This has come with governmental relaxation in measures for managing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has seen the university return to in-person teaching as well as several other changes to COVID measures. On the 28th of January, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students announced via email that “From the start of this Semester (24 January), the temporary changes to the EC [exceptional circumstances] process that were made in response to the pandemic will no longer apply.”
In a social media post that attracted over 700 likes, Student disability-rights group, Access Sussex, raised concerns about the apparent phasing-out of hybrid learning earlier this month: “Restrictions are lifting which will make our campus less safe and even immunocompromised students are being told they will not necessarily get access to online lessons anymore.”
In an open letter to the university that has reached 360 signatures as of Feb 21st, Access Sussex stated “It is necessary that we remind people that the coronavirus pandemic has not ended and that many students with disabilities are still extremely vulnerable or unable to wear masks or get a vaccine due to their disability. Other students have been left suffering from Long Covid, a debilitating condition, while others are unable to return to in-person teaching due to their disabilities and cannot be expected to reintegrate back into university life without regard that the pandemic is still having an effect on them.”