Gabriel Huland, PhD Media Studies
After a period of discussions and consultations, the One Professional Service (OPS) restructuring process will soon enter a new phase. SOAS management has now presented to the Executive Board the revised proposals addressing the fiscal deficit currently hitting SOAS.
The changes are due to take place by 3 June 2019, according to SOAS Registrar and Secretary Paula Sanderson. Each department will then establish their transitional periods based on their specificities. Sanderson also said, in an e-mail sent to all SOAS staff on 5 February, that voluntary severance will continue for ten days following the announcement of the final decisions taken by the Executive Board regarding the new structures. Students do not have representation on the Executive Board. SOAS management aims to reduce the total number of staff hours from the equivalent of 426 full-time staff down to 390. They’ve estimated that this will save £1.55m which represents 6.9% of the entire staff costs.
Unison and UCU strongly oppose the OPS Restructuring proposals because “it will lead to job losses and the deterioration of the services provided by SOAS”. They are particularly concerned about the impact of job cuts on the library. In this regard, the position of library staff differs significantly from that of senior management. While SOAS Director Valerie Amos declared in an interview with The SOAS Spirit that the library would lose five staff, some members of the #SaveSOASLibrary campaign state that approximately 13 permanent positions will no longer exist by the end of July 2019.
“This discrepancy has to do with the fact that in the original Library restructure plan managers equated the total number of reduced Library staff hours worked across a calendar year as being equivalent to 5 full-time (35 hours per week) staff, whereas as what we see in that restructure diagram from late November is the total number of posts being reduced from 55 to 42, hence 13 people losing jobs”, said Bob Burns, Subject Librarian for Law and a member of UCU.
Union members and student reps also criticise the consultations for not being democratic and transparent enough. In their view, senior management did not provide adequate scope for discussion of the proposed structures within all branches of the SOAS community.
Union members and student reps also criticise the consultations for not being democratic and transparent enough.
Until the students union pushed for it, “there was no intention of consulting the student body in Management’s plans for the OPS restructuring”, said Tam Hau-Yu, Student Union Co-President for Democracy & Education. According to Malena Batisda, a 3rd-year Student Rep for Politics & IR, “We sat at the meetings as mere spectators, we were only allowed to ask questions and we did not get a chance to reply back”.
A large majority of SOAS Unison members voted in favour of industrial action in the event of compulsory redundancies as a result of the OPS Restructure. “The SU stands with UCU and UNISON that there are to be no compulsory redundancies in the restructuring process, and we are prepared to fight students’ corners where students’ expectations, standards and needs are not met”, Tam Hau-Yu stated.
SOAS’ financial position is unsustainable due primarily to a 40% drop in undergraduate students’ recruitment from 2016-17 to 2018-19, when the number of new undergraduate students fell from 1,069 to 638. In various occasions, members of SOAS Governing Body have blamed the National Student Survey (NSS) boycotts organised by the Student Union (SU) in past years for the low recruitment. This year a vote organised by the current SU resulted in a decision not to boycott the NSS.
The SOAS financial deficit is a worrying £7 million. High dropout rates, particularly in Finance & Management and Anthropology, have contributed, as have poor rates of donations from alumni. SOAS is not alone in its financial difficulties, several other universities have been dealing with plunging student recruitment, with many implementing voluntary severance packages in an attempt to return to sustainable spending levels.
Photo Credits: Gabriel Huland