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SOAS Running Out of Money? Not This Year: £11.2m Surplus Announced

Lara Holly Gibbs, MA Gender Studies 

In December 2021 SOAS released their financial statement for 2020-21. The statement announced SOAS’ £11.2 million unrestricted surplus as opposed to its 2019-20 deficit of £0.9 million. The document details SOAS’ finances as well as their Strategic Plan going forward. 

According to SOAS, their surplus comes as a result of ‘continued actions taken to monitor costs and strong student recruitment.’

The statement explains how SOAS has returned to a surplus-generating position, following their Transformation and Change policy in which they aimed to lower spending by £17 million for their 2020-21 budget. This resulted in many cuts across the School. The document also showed that ‘total staff costs fell from £59.1m to £50.6 as the School completed its restructuring programme.’ 

Sandy Nicoll, UNISON Branch Secretary, told the SOAS Spirit that initially SOAS had projected an £18m deficit which he claimed was SOAS ‘projecting the most negative imaginable numbers.’ He described the figure as ‘way outside of anything that is reasonable,’ saying that at the time had urged SOAS to wait until accurate figures were available before making such projections. He went on further to say that the projected £18m deficit was put forward to ‘scare people into accepting the cuts that they were trying to push through.’ 

“cuts made during the restructuring process ‘almost broke the institution'”

Nicoll added that the cuts made during the restructuring process ‘almost broke the institution’ as staff were lost ‘in virtually every area,’ with a disproportionate effect on cleaning and catering staff. He raises the question of how SOAS will spend the surplus money, explaining that additional funding should be invested in resolving issues created by the cuts as well as ‘properly compensating staff.’ 

Marie Staunton, Chair of SOAS Board of Trustees, says that the surplus will allow the School to invest in improving the student experience and to implement the new Strategic Plan. In addition, it will facilitate investments, which have already been approved, in ‘capital expenditure relating to our estates and IT infrastructure.’ Staunton explains that SOAS having a stronger financial position is vital for improving their ‘academic project and student offering.’ 

Nicoll highlighted the increased workload that comes with reduced staff numbers and an increased student intake. He argues that SOAS needs to look at gaps in terms of admin staff and describes the workload that many staff have taken on as ‘almost inhumane.’ In view of the surplus SOAS has obtained, he asks ‘but at what cost?’ 

In a press release SOAS said: ‘SOAS University of London has published its audited accounts for financial year 2020-21 showing continued strengthening of its financial position. Our results for 2020-21 show an unrestricted surplus of £11.2m, which is due to the continued actions taken to monitor costs and the strong student recruitment we achieved in September 2021. This is a significant improvement from the deficit of £0.9m in 2019-20.This stronger financial position is vital for SOAS to plan confidently for the future and to continually improve our academic project, student offering and infrastructure. SOAS successfully delivered its teaching and research during the most challenging times of the pandemic. The impact of Covid required academics to rapidly adjust their teaching and research and, for professional services staff, their way of working. 

‘The School also has in place a strong new leadership team to steer SOAS forward, under the directorship of Professor Adam Habib. In line with our Strategic Plan, we will be using surpluses to improve the student experience and the continued development of our academic endeavour. This will include investing in and developing our student responsiveness – where the student journey is at the heart of the plan – and research intensity. The Strategic Plan also articulates a vision for a new model of international partnerships which is responsive to the transnational character of our global challenges. It commits SOAS to ensuring a socially just institutional community in which everyone experiences belonging and is treated with respect.’

Photo Caption: The sun sets on Senate House, the view from a SOAS classroom (Credit: Frances Howe).

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