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FOI Reveals SOAS’ Spending on External Security Over the Last Year Exceeds £650,000

By Millie Glaister, BA Politics and International Relations

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that SOAS’ spending on external security on campus totalled £661,632.23 over the past twelve months. The response from the Information Compliance Manager at SOAS stated: ‘The external security costs below cover our security requirements over and above our Business as Usual operations to cover the SU late bar, requirements for high profile events, Welcome Week, Graduations, Strike Action and other times of heightened risk. All costs are inclusive of 20% VAT.’ The response then discloses the monthly breakdown of the costs, which were as follows: 

‘Feb 2022– Cost : £50,957.50   

March 2022– Cost £46,758    

April 2022– Cost: £13,500    

May 2022– Cost: £20,784 

June 2022– Cost: £17,837.5   

July 2022– Cost: £10,212    

August 2022– Cost: £14,079.13  

September 2022– Cost: £126,610.6   

October 2022 – Cost: £46,478   

November 2022 – Cost: £62,318.5 

December 2022– Cost: £14,633 

January 2023 – Cost: £106,835 

February 2023 – Cost: £62,707 

March 2023 – Cost: £67,913’

The Spirit posted a callout on Instagram asking if students had noticed an increased external security presence on campus, and if so, how has it made them feel. Miemie Austin, 3rd year BA East Asian Studies, says she finds the increased security presence on campus “intimidating and disproportionate,’ while Mahir Ahmed, 1st year MA Global Media student says, ‘Bad! Gross! They should consider reforming Mitigating Circumstances and other student services instead.’ 

Jacob White, 2nd year BA Languages and Cultures, states ‘I think it’s not fair to put the blame on the security guards themselves as they’re generally quite nice though I have had a couple of experiences of certain security guards being quite rude. The main issue is just that it seems both like such an unnecessary show of force directly retaliation against peaceful and reasonable student protests at the strikes, and the fact it is such a waste of already limited SOAS funds.’ 

SOAS provided official comment to the Spirit, which reads as follows: 

‘SOAS University of London’s security needs fluctuate throughout the year, and we use external security during busy times where health and safety laws and regulations require us to ensure our campus is safe and well-managed for all the community and external visitors. This includes periods in the year such as graduation, welcome week, and events with high-profile speakers. We often use additional security at the request of the student union for student union led events late into evenings and weekends. 

SOAS will always support freedom of expression and the right to protest. Unfortunately, where activities inhibit the normal running of the School, specifically teaching and learning, our security needs increase and this places a significant extra burden on the School’s finances.’

The FOI request was submitted by Gabriel Rahman, a third year Development Studies and Politics student at SOAS. The Spirit have since reached out to Rahman, who is a member of the SOAS Justice For Workers campaign, in order to gain insight on his motivation for submitting this request. 

In answer to why he originally submitted the request, Rahman recounted ‘seeing over the last year, this academic year, much more security has been on campus even on days and weekends when I come in.’ Rahman notes the ongoing situation at SOAS, with the consistent mention of ‘how financially precarious it is.’ 

There are ongoing pay disputes, with action taken by both UNISON and UCU at SOAS, regarding pay, pensions, equality and workload. While some of these issues are controlled at a national level, Rahman notes that the ‘financial mismanagement’ of the university during COVID resulted in the firing of many people, and that the university seems to be ‘making similar noises now.’ 

Rahman further reflects on his reaction to receiving the FOI results, stating he was, ‘sadly, not surprised.’ Ultimately his take away from the FOI was a demonstration of ‘where the priorities of the management of the university are – intimidating students, intimidating staff, rather than actually listening to them when they protest and what they’re protesting about. Spend the money on that instead.’

Photo Caption: #sunnyafternoon at School or Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (Credit: Cantavestrella is licensed under CC BY 2.0).

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