A walkout occurred on 23 January 2020 at SOAS, University of London to condemn the cuts of the fractional workers and academic staff on research leave. With over 400 students and staff, both permanent and temporary in attendance, many have stated that this was the largest demonstration at SOAS.
A week before the walkout, SOAS management announced they would be suspending research leave for the 2020/21 academic year declaring that the university needed to “reduce salary costs”. This suspension was made with no regard or consultation with the UCU or Academic Senate, and no disclosure of the financial status of the university.
Several research students and permanent workers, as well as a representative from the Universities and Colleges Union spoke out about the outrage of those affected and the selfishness of management and board members allowing these cuts to take place.
The demands by the UCU, SOAS Students’ Union and the Fractionals For Fair Play included a push for financial transparency within the university, revoking the suspension of research leave and stopping the cuts to the fractional budget. They also urged that any financial/salary cuts to be made should be done at the level of senior management.
Not only are the jobs a fundamental source of income for research students in a precious work environment, but the students and researchers are a chief function of the university. The cuts to the fractional budget affect the researchers and fractionals who teach part-time and increase the workload of the permanent staff. This “restructuring” of insecure staff is a blatant and unsympathetic example of management abusing the casualised workforce.
Universities like SOAS, which focus on Africa and Asia, are home unique curriculums taught only in a few places in Europe. This makes it far more susceptible to cuts as the courses taught here are less likely to be profitable. However this struggle is not isolated to SOAS, at least three UK universities are said to be facing bankruptcy [https://inews.co.uk/news/education/university-bankruptcy-reliant-on-loans-225766]. University funding has been slashed for over a decade and education has been turned into a commodity.
The crisis of these cuts are a product of capitalism which treats education as a commodity rather than a social good and a means for progress. The only way forward is to fight against this. Students must support the workers in their struggle by attending walkouts and joining them on the picket lines. We must support the demand of revealing financial records, as the SOAS administration is happy enough to pay senior management hundreds of thousands of pounds whilst they are ending contracts and refusing permanent work to fractionals and research students.
The SOAS Marxist Society offers its full support to the workers and urges all students to join them in this struggle. Similar conditions and attacks have been echoed in universities across the UK and we urge other workers and students facing such oppression to join us and stand against this exploitation.
Students and workers unite and fight!
SOAS Marxist Society