By Zain Hussain, MSc Internatonal Politics
Those of us who were at SOAS on the 2st February 2018 may remember Valerie Amos being heckled at by students. This was done in response to an email sent to the student body by Deborah Johnson, addressing concerns that many working class students were not being given the bursaries and hardship funds they were due. The email made it clear that those deserving of the funds were indeed receiving them.
As I’m sure it did many other people, the email offended me greatly!
Not only did it fail to address the real grievances of the students, It also made it crystal clear to those of us who are working class students that the university cares little for our financial needs and does not take into account everyone from financially unstable backgrounds. Anyone who reads the email on allocation of excellence bursaries sent by Deborah Johnson will see that each year bursaries are allocated for a set number of students. This means that many students who deserve bursaries are not getting them. There was supposedly a change to the policy in 2017-2018 which meant that more students could be allocated bursaries, but this meant lessening the amount of money each student received. This is absolute nonsense!
Of course, there are those of you reading this piece who may be disagreeing with my position. Maybe you think bursaries for people from low income backgrounds is not a right. Maybe you think we already have enough going for us, that we really don’t need the money with all of our student loans.
The truth is that, even for many of us living at home, we need to contribute to domestic costs and rent. Living at home does not necessarily mean saving money. It is also important to understand just how much people in management earn from our own pockets. Valerie Amos has a yearly salary of around £200,000 pounds. If any cuts are to be made, why are they being made on the costs for running our university, and why are some units no longer being funded? And why are some departments lagging behind due to lack of funds, while we went ahead and built Senate House, for no particularly dire reason?
These seemingly nonsensical financial decisions are being taken by a management that believes ever more strongly in the marketisation of education, or is at least complacent with it. Senate House was built in order to give SOAS a more corporate image and to overshadow its previously niche and unique image. The management are only interested in making more money. Language units are suffering due to lack of proper financial support to departments. Languages cannot be taught without a sufficient number of teachers, and it seems that management is just not willing to make those costs. It would rather focus on more marketisation, more corporatisation and more fuller reserves.
This is a reason why many workers at SOAS have also been outsourced. SOAS saves money when workers are outsourced, but it also means their rights are not ensured and SOAS can act innocent in many cases when something goes wrong.
Why am I mentioning marketisation and outsourcing in an article about allocating money to working class students? Because it is part of a much bigger problem. It is not that SOAS is negligent. It is not that its managers are racist. This is an issue of marketisation and cutting costs wherever possible, unless any damage would be done to the management’s salaries, or to the forces of marketisation of education. It is because of this that the university will never really cave in to demands for better financial support to working class students. It may widen the scope of bursaries, but no serious attempt will be made to help those from working class backgrounds financially, unless they make it into the quota. This is deeply offensive. I am not asking for a privilege when I ask for financial support as a working class student. I am demanding my rights. And that is how we working class students, BME working class students, financially challenged people, should see it – a right. And we have to fight for it, because they aren’t going to give it to us without one.
If any cuts should be made, it should be to the management’s 6 figure salaries. And if we are fighting for our right to bursaries and financial support as working class students, then we are also fighting against this system if marketisation.