Sheffield Hallam University says it is investigating the incident which happened last night as students gained access to its Cantor building, where they unfurled a banner reading ‘Students B4 Profit’.
The footage has been widely condemned online, with one member of staff at the university describing how she was ‘appalled’ by what she had seen, and an elected student representative telling how she was ‘shocked, saddened, and rightfully enraged’.
Students from the University of Sheffield occupied the Arts Tower at the same time, in a joint demonstration over the universities’ response to student rent strikes and the treatment of staff and students during the pandemic.
In January, students at both universities withheld thousands of pounds in rent as part of what they claimed was the largest rent strike in the UK in 40 years, amid anger at being made to pay for rooms in halls they were not allowed to return to because of lockdown restrictions.
They say many people have been made to live in ‘squalid’ conditions, despite paying up to £170 a week in rent.
Some students at Hallam have reported leaking sewage, rat and mice infestations and being left without hot water or working toilets, they say, while those at the University of Sheffield are unhappy at having had to pay £30 for ‘inadequate’ food parcels.
Students at both universities have also complained about security staff ‘invading’ private rooms and police entering halls without warrants, yet they say university chiefs have done little to address their concerns.
Zac Larkham, speaking on behalf of the Sheffield Hallam occupiers, said the way staff and students had been treated was ‘unacceptable’.
"They lied to us about returning to university being safe, lied to us about face-to-face teaching and it’s time they face up to that. We won’t be leaving until our three demands are met.”
A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield protesters said the university had ‘consistently shown scant regard for the welfare of students’.
"The pandemic has brought into focus what many already knew - that profit takes precedence over student welfare when it comes to housing and education,” they added.
A Sheffield Hallam University spokesperson said it was ‘committed to continuing dialogue with the rent strike protesters’, with senior staff having visited this morning.
"We are also aware of an incident that occurred on Thursday evening at the Cantor building involving a protestor and security officer, and are investigating this.”
A University of Sheffield spokesperson said it supported students’ rights to protest peacefully but ‘does not condone’ the occupation of a building which causes disruption for other students.
The university said it had been doing its best to support students, including not charging rent to those unable to make use of their university-owned or managed accommodation due to the Government’s restrictions and establishing a £3m Covid Support Fund for those facing financial difficulties.
"While the university cannot control the decisions of private landlords, we are continuing to work closely with the Students’ Union to ensure we are providing students with the most effective and appropriate support,” it added.
Students from both universities are planning to march through Sheffield on Sunday in protest at their treatment.