By Arooj Sultan, BA Economics and Politics
An investigation by the SOAS Spirit reveals that SOAS senior management has hired three consultants at the start of the 2017/18 academic year to advise on the restructuring process. Investigations also reveal that these consultants receive large salaries for their services; one of the three consultants is believed to receive approximately £13,000 per month. This has been a cause for concern for the SOAS Student’s Union (SU). Initially these consultants were brought in on a short-term basis, but their contracts have been extended as the process of restricting continues.
The presence of these consultants has been criticized as they were supposedly brought in to solve problems that critics say could have been addressed through a consultation with the full time sta already working at SOAS. ese members of sta have practical knowledge and experience regarding the SOAS communities and the pertinent issues that have plagued the institutions, such as the faults in the online Student Information Desk (SID), enrolment and the mitigating circumstances procedures.
A conflict of interest?
Issues have been raised regarding whether the appoint- ment of the consultants is a con ict of interest.Th e consultants concerned are associated with the consultancy firm Halpin Partnership Limited, of which the current SOAS Registrar, Paula Sanderson, is also a fellow. Sanderson is listed as both SOAS Registrar and fellow on the Halpin website, and it seems that she has declared the firm in the register of interests too. This has been criticized due to the possibility of a con ict of interest in the hiring of these consultants. Furthermore, management have purchased the ‘Insight Discovery’ Programme and the set up of the Emerging Leaders and Management Programme (eLAMP) program. This has generated criticism due to a ‘lack of transparency’ in the process of acquiring new programmes/tools. As a result, the three unions associated with the campus, namely the SU, UNISON and University and College Union (UCU), sought to petition management for clarification.
Following the departure of the former Director of Marketing, Student Recruitment and Communications in August 2017, David Miller was brought in as Senior Marketing Consultant. Though Miller is a consultant, his position in essence is the same as the one that was occupied by the former director. A matter for consideration is why exactly was a consultant brought into a senior position as opposed to making use of the existing sta or promoting one of the staff into the unoccupied position. Furthermore, Miller and Sanderson, are known to be associated not just via Halpin Consultancy but also through their time working together at the University of Exeter. The other two consultants, namely, Sara Doherty and Patrick Kennedy, were hired for separate departments/projects and are also fellows at Halpin Consultancy.
Concerned by what appeared to be a potential conflict of interest the SOAS UCU, UNISON and SU, on the 19th of December 2017, submitted a formal request to senior management to investigate the hiring of the consultants, the terms of reference and their costs (from the start of their con- tracts till 31st November 2017). They also asked for nancial clari cation pertaining to the purchasing of the ‘Insight Discovery’ Programme and eLAMP programme. A meeting was then set up for the 4th of January 2018, where management would respond to the request of the unions, but the meeting was subsequently cancelled.
The Spirit discovered that a management review of the enquiries of the three unions had been conducted. Com- missioned by the School Director, it was undertaken by personnel from the Human Resources department and the Resources and Planning Department. In this review. Sanderson confirms that she is a fellow at Halpin, but that she has not been involved in any advisory or consultancy projects with Halpin and consequently has not received an income or commission from the firm. According to the review, none of the consultants were engaged through Halpin.
Miller and Kennedy are said to be engaged independently, whilst Doherty was engaged through Collective Intelligence Consulting Limited (CIC) under the umbrella of the pre-existing contract between SOAS and CIC. Out of the three consultants, Sanderson is shown only to have been involved in approaching Kennedy in relation to teaching and research data management relating to SOAS’s league table position, as Kennedy is believed to be the authority on the impact of data and university leagues tables. e review report states that Kennedy has been hired based on his unique knowledge and skillset, his duties involve gathering data and coming up with recommendations to solve the problems that have been hindering SOAS’s delivery of important objectives (like student experience, entry tariffs). The appointment of Miller is alleged to have to have occurred due Kennedy’s recommendation. Miller’s duties are stated to be strategic advising in the new marketing structure, guidance on marketable portfolios and programmes, as well as identi cation of current suc- cesses at SOAS (in terms of marketability). In the review, both Miller and Kennedy are revealed to be employed based on their expertise and experience. The cost of consultancy until the 31st November is listed as £79,099.
The review report also states that whilst Sanderson has previously used the ‘Insight’ tool at the University of Sydney she has derived no income from it, either there or at SOAS. The eLAMP programme, till February 2021, has an estimated cost of £71,000 plus £150 service fee. The review concludes that there has been no procedural irregularity and that there is no confict of interest.
The Spirit contacted SOAS senior management for a statement. A SOAS spokesperson said:“ The School has reviewed the matters raised by the Students’ Union and the Trades Union and have provided a full response to all their concerns and enquires. The consultancy advice received has been of significant value to the School and there is no evidence that any officer of the School has acted with anything other than the highest standards of professional conduct.”