Outrage as Sheffield University spends nearly £500k on PIANOS despite sweeping job cuts

The University of Sheffield has been slammed after it forked out nearly £500,000 on PIANOS despite announcing sweeping staff cuts in the last month.

By Sophie Wills
Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 8:11 am

The university has come under fire after it was revealed that they had splashed the cash on 17 prestigious Steinway pianos for their music department.

This comes after staff were asked to apply for voluntary severance due to the Covid-19 crisis and widespread redundancies were announced.

The decision to purchase the pianos, worth £472,000, has been branded as a “display of elitism” and an “obtuse gesture” by baffled faculty members.

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A former lab technician who worked at Sheffield University, pictured, has been jailed for drug-dealing.

However, the university has defended its actions stating the order was made prior to the pandemic and that the pianos would “enhance the student experience”.

But the revelation of the gaudy expense have left staff raging after they saw many of their colleagues lose their jobs during the pandemic.

Speaking to student news site The Tab, one staff member said: “This is an obtuse gesture made by university executives who are completely out of touch with staff and students.

“I suspect the truth is that university management would rather have staff members quit under their insulting voluntary severance scheme, cut wages, and eventually fire people under involuntary severance than lose marks of vapid prestige like this.”

(L-R) Sheffield University, a Steinway piano for illustrative purposes by Brian Ach for Getty Images.

Others have expressed anger over the “insulting” lack of consultation before the extravagant purchase.

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An academic staff member in the Arts and Humanities department said: “If students or staff had been asked what the Faculty should spend half a million pounds on, I’m sure staff would have been the priority.

“I am shocked at the amount of money being spent on something that is completely unnecessary. It is completely unclear what sort of scrutiny this decision was subjected to.”

In response to a Freedom of Information request from university website The Tab, the university listed the reasons for the purchase stating it would make the university "Steinway accredited".

They argued it would enhance experience across the whole student body, upgrade the poor quality existing pianos, and that the pianos will be maintained well and not depreciate in value.

They said this means “significant financial savings for the future,” and described the purchase as “an investment with measurable return”.

Sheffield University announced last month that it would make job cuts to tackle a £100 million loss of income triggered by the coronavirus crisis.

The university, which has nearly 7,000 members of staff, said it is also looking at reducing its 2021 budget by 15 percent.

In emails to staff last month, the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts said: “Our financial modelling shows that we now need to plan for a £100 million loss of income.

“In the face of this loss, we must take all reasonable steps to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the university.

“It is important that we make efficiency savings where possible, and alongside the Voluntary Severance Scheme we have asked colleagues on the University Executive Board to work through the implications of a 15 per cent reduction to budgets for 2021.

A Sheffield University spokesperson said: “We will need an exceptional, university-wide effort to overcome the challenges ahead, with a particular focus on student recruitment and ensuring we provide the best possible education and student experience.”

“As part of our All Steinway School accreditation, the University of Sheffield will take delivery of 17 Steinway pianos towards the end of the year. The decision to invest in new equipment was taken as a direct result of student demand from across the University, and to bring our fleet of pianos up to industry standard in order to meet the expectations prospective and current students have for studying at Sheffield.

“The accreditation is one of the most prestigious that can be awarded to a music school anywhere in the world, and we are pleased this will allow us to continue to offer the highest-quality student experience. Importantly, the investment was committed to in 2019, before the covid-19 pandemic."

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