By Frances Howe, LLB
A UCL spokesperson has confirmed that as of 3 March 2021 there has never been an offer from UCL to acquire SOAS. In response to the rumours that UCL will merge with SOAS, the spokesperson said, ‘there is no substance to any of these rumours.’ Accordingly, a statement from SOAS as of 3 March 2021 confirmed that ‘there is no proposal for SOAS and UCL to merge, nor is this being considered in any future plans.’
‘There is no proposal for SOAS and UCL to merge, nor is this being considered in any future plans.’
In an interview with the SOAS Spirit published on 30 January 2019, former director of SOAS, Valerie Amos, affirmed that she was aware of the rumours which she believed had been circulating around campus since starting her role as director of the university in 2015. Amos denied having received any formal offer from UCL in the acquisition of SOAS: ‘UCL may like to talk to SOAS, but I am certainly not aware of UCL buying SOAS. I haven’t been offered any money and I don’t think the Board of Trustees have been offered anything.’
UCL and the Institute of Education (IOE) merged in December of 2014 in which the IOE became a Faculty School of UCL known as the UCL Institute of Education. Earlier, in 1999, UCL merged with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
Rumour circulation is linked to SOAS’ financial instability. In an interview with the SOAS Spirit in November 2020, UNISON branch secretary at SOAS, Sandy Nicoll, alleged that the school had to find £17 million before the start of the 2020/21 academic year in order to stay financially viable. In February when asked about a UCL takeover, Adam Habib responded to SOAS’ financial situation more broadly: ‘… over the past nine months we had the Transformation and Change process which has already put SOAS in a much firmer financial footing on the basis of those very hard decisions. But this is a temporary victory – all it did was buy us some time.’ In April 2020 SOAS sold its leasehold of the Russell Square Terrace buildings, including the Faber Building, back to the University of London.
The rumour that UCL will make an offer to merge with SOAS is a constant on the Facebook page SOASk Me Out. One anonymous commenter wrote in 2020, ‘I kinda hope SOAS is bought by UCL at this point. That is not to say I don’t want SOAS to retain its amazing unique identity and that I am ungrateful for the empowered environment that we have. It’s just that the threat of SOAS closing and the fact that certain degrees are being merged to cut costs is so scary to me… it’s like SOAS is crumbling…’ An earlier post from 2018 says, ‘Can UCL just buy SOAS already anything is better than this.’
Reaching out via social media platforms, the SOAS Spirit surveyed its readers to assess students’ opinions on the rumour. We asked whether students had heard about the rumour that UCL wants to acquire SOAS and 185 students responded. Out of these students 77% said they had heard the rumour. In response to the question of whether these students believed these rumours to be true, 183 students responded and only a slim majority of our readers (53%) believed the rumours to be false.
Along with denying the validity of the rumour, SOAS’ response ended by affirming that ‘SOAS has taken strong and successful action to tackle the financial challenges created by Covid, as we set out in the summer, and we will be taking further positive steps in the future under our new Director, Professor Adam Habib.’
Photo caption: The SOAS campus remains independent for now. (Credit: UCL/Manchesterhistory.net)