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UGM Report – 13th October 2017

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By Ali Mitib (BA Law and Politics)

The first SOAS Union General Meeting (UGM) of the academic year took place on 13th October 2017.

UGMs are meetings involving all members of the Students Union (SU), where members of the SOAS community are welcome to put forward, discuss, amend and pass motions that will become SU policy for the next three years.


Fight for Free Education – Passed with amendment

The first motion centred on opposing the “government’s agenda to marketise education” through tactics such as rising tuition fees, student debt and the scrapping of maintenance grants. In this motion, it was argued that the focus of the higher education had shifted from aiming to ensure the welfare of students to treating students as consumers in the quest of profit.

An amendment put forward to change the date of the national education demonstration from 14th October to 15th October was passed.

The passed motion resolved three points to achieve a free education. Firstly, to hold regular campaign meetings aimed at engaging all members of the SU to discuss what free education should look like and to “propose alternatives to the current higher education system”. Secondly, to “build a bloc” for the national free education demonstration on the 14th November and commit the SU to work with other students’ unions to host a series of events and meetings prior to the demonstration. Thirdly, the motion commits the SU to improve transparency around the hidden costs of education at SOAS, such as library fines and instalment fees, as well as utilising the student representative system to develop universally accessible alternatives to services for notes, proofreading and essay banks.


SOAS Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy – Passed

The second motion centred on developing the university’s Sexual Violence and Misconduct policy. This motion notes that the report of the Universities UK Task Force in 2016 recommended that universities involve their students’ unions in developing, maintaining and reviewing all elements of a cross-institution response. The report also notes that there must be a clear, accessible and representative disclosure response for incidents of sexual violence and rape is available.

The passed motion resolves three points to develop such a policy. Firstly, committing the SU to work with the university to create a clear policy on sexual violence and misconduct. Secondly, to make to his information “prominently available” in a single location on the SU or university website. Lastly, to “better promote” existing policies and procedures by Union staff.
Eliminating Plastic Cutlery at SOAS S.U Shop and Bar  – Passed

This motion called for the replacement of plastic cutlery in the SOAS S.U. shop and bar with other more environmentally friendly options, such as compostable cutlery, bamboo cutlery, toxic free wood and biodegradable cutlery. This motion builds upon a previous motion passed which supported the  “Take it to the Tap” campaign.

The passed motion also calls for the S.U. to call upon SOAS to abandon the use of one-use plastics and to condemn the use of it elsewhere. The motion also commits the S.U. to “organise campaigns to promote environment friendly cutlery, (the) impact of environmentally friendly cutlery and eco-conscious choice in all spheres of student life”.


Using SOAS Main Building at weekends – Passed

This motion was proposed in response to the S.U. being asked to pay for extra security on Saturday and Sundays after 6pm. Many societies and community groups use the university space during this time to organise and gather. The motion states such groups “have contributed an enormous amount to community building at SOAS”. The motion states that the Main Building remains open past 6pm on weekends and that it is unfair to put extra security costs on the students during this time.

The passed motion compels the S.U. to reinstate full reception and security staff of the Main Buildings on the weekends.


Securing and improving student representation during restructuring – Passed

This motion centred on ensuring student representation during the restructuring process. The process will reorganise the three faculties into eleven schools. The year of 2017/18 will be an interim year. This arrangement was announced on 1st August 2017. The motion states that the ‘abrupt manner in which the structure was introduced does not reflect discussions students and staff had about the restructuring”.

The passed motion commits the S.U. to all student reps to be involved in the Restructuring Process. One way this motion aims to achieve this is the invitation of all student representatives, as full members with the equal status, rights and responsibilities, to school meetings.  Secondly, the S.U. executive team will work with student representatives to develop a new ‘Code of Practice’ for student representatives to “ensure student representation is not simply maintained but increased in the new school structure”. The motion aims for this code to be passed at the Academic Board meeting in 2017/18 to ensure the departments are accountable for inviting reps.


Emergency Motions

In support of the academic senate motion on “Campus Events” – Passed

This motion supports the Academic Senate who recently brought a motion titled “Campus Events” to the floor on the 11th October. The “Campus Events” calls for the SOAS Management be held accountable for their role in organising an event at SOAS where Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev spoke on the 27th April 2017. The Students’ Union report on the event, which was realised on 9th May 2017, noted that SOAS students and staff were subject to harassment, intimidation, racial abuse and filming without consent by pro-Regev supporters and Israeli security.

The “Campus Event” motion states that “the Director’s emphasis on free speech as a justification” cannot be at the expense of “violating hundreds of SOAS students and staff’s rights to free speech, privacy, or physical integrity”.

The event was held, despite the protests of SOAS students and staff.  Furthermore, the Academic Senate motion notes that the invitation of Regev “contravenes the 2015 SOAS BDS referendum,” which returned a yes vote of 73% but was not acted on by SOAS Management. The Academic Senate motion demands that the Director and Registrar outline a plan to the SOAS community to prevent the recurrence of assaults and intimidation of students and staff on campus and to ensure perpetrators who are not members of the SOAS community are held liable and excluded from SOAS premises.

The passed motion compels the S.U.  to support the motion, to release a statement in support of it, call upon staff to vote in favour of it and encourage students to urge the staff to vote in favour of the motion by the deadline of the 23rd October.


Halt the changes to student spaces in the Doctoral School – Passed with an amendment

This motion is in response to the decision of the SOAS Doctoral School to convert the student space on the first floor of the school into an office space. The school proposes that the students will receive new study space in the “smaller office space” on the third floor. This motion also notes that the school did not consult the student body about these changes and notified all students on the 12th of October, 6 days before the planned changes were to take place.

The passed motion notes that the S.U. believes that the Doctoral School must consult all staff and students “concerned by changes” in the School and that decisions without full consultation works against the interests of staff and students who use the spaces. Furthermore, it is noted that the S.U. any policy or space changes impacting PhD candidates must be “meaningfully consulted and disseminated well in advance”.

The motion was passed with the amendment that students will consider further action in the event of an unsatisfactory response following the executive committee meeting on Monday 16th October. The union also resolved to lobby SOAS Senior management and the Doctoral School to halt the planned change in the use of space on 18th October. The passed motion also demands a full consultation “on the use and needs of the Doctoral School building” and to ensure consultation on future issues effecting PhD students.

Prior to the meeting on Monday, the doctoral students were informed by the that the move would be delayed and that a consultation would take place with the Research Students’ Association and PhD students.

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