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Transformation and Change: Who is management really saving and at what cost?

  • Opinion

By Millie Glaister, BA Politics and International Relations.

While the institution posits the Transformation and Change (T&C) Process at SOAS as necessary to save the university, I have begun to wonder what it is exactly that they are trying to save. SOASians have a clear understanding of what SOAS means to them. Over time, SOAS has transformed from a colonial institution to one valued for its socially conscious, inclusive, and progressive environment. Never more clearly have we seen these characteristics undermined by senior management than over this past summer. Despite facing a pandemic and a recession, some of the most vulnerable in the SOAS community have been the targets of its most recent cuts.

In Issue 13 of the SOAS Spirit, I wrote an article with an update on the T&C process. I spoke to a number of people – fractionals, union reps, departmental officers, and lecturers – who truly opened my eyes. While I learnt about the severity of the financial situation, what I found more shocking was the desperation of those subjected to the ruthlessness of senior management. 

The process of bringing about the £17 million cuts was inherently flawed. 

Dr Feyzi Ismail (Department of Development Studies) and Maia Holtermann Entwistle (PhD student and de facto fractional representative for the Department of Politics and International Studies) spoke about how responsibility for academic cuts was left up to individual departments in a way that ‘devolves accountability.’ Holtermann Entwistle spoke of the way the ‘decision-making was dressed up as grassroots or bottom-up decision-making,’ when in reality it ‘opens up space for prejudicial treatment.’ 

‘The jobs most at risk also happen to have the greatest concentration of BAME and female staff.

Unison Branch Secretary, Sandy Nicoll, said that, in reality, the union’s suggestions were ignored in the decision-making process. It is also important to mention that the jobs most at risk also happen to have the greatest concentration of BAME and female staff. In turn, this lack of communication resulted in departments across the university, both professional and academic, being understaffed and overworked. 

One of the most frustrating aspects here is that while senior management are pulling the strings with little regard for the wider community, blame is being dissociated from them. They have willfully leveraged the safety of their workers against the desires of the students – letting resentment fester on both sides, counting on the pandemic to reduce the communication and solidarity we have shown in past rounds of cuts. 

We are seeing modules and programmes being cut, fractionals and professional services put at risk, lecturers and administration overworked, and ultimately, the quality of education provided at SOAS being diminished. So, I pose this question: if we are all taking a hit ‘for the institution,’ who are these cuts actually benefiting? The answer begins with the people that are yet to take a pay cut alongside everyone else, and those who are more concerned with their future profit margins: the senior managers. 

Are we willing to relinquish everything we have fought to establish at SOAS? Are we willing to let fractionals and professional services be unfairly targeted? There is no question that SOAS is in a problematic financial situation, but we must demand better from the senior management and address these institutional biases before even more people are sacrificed in such uncertain times. We must stand together as a community to ensure that while we fight to keep the university afloat, we do not surrender all those who make SOAS what it is. 

Photo Caption: Walkout in January showing solidarity with Fractionals. (Credit: Suzana Marie).

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