As you may have heard over the past week, SOAS management were opposed in their restructuring plans that they tried to push through last week.
We've come up with a mini document that explains:
what restructuring actually is, why it's a problem, where we've come to on these original restructuring plans, what our suggestions are, and what you can do.
Once you've read it, sign our proposal here to ensure the working group is representative of the student body.
Restructuring: An alternative vision
What is restructuring?
Under the School's ‘Sustainable SOAS’ program, SOAS management have proposed an outline for academic restructuring.
- It has been proposed that these restructures come into effect in the next academic year (2017/18)
- The proposal outlines plans to get rid of the faculty system all together and make departments independent from each other.
- Instead of a faculty system (which we agree is flawed and needs to change) a system of 9 Schools is being proposed.
- The proposed Schools include: the School of Law; the School of Economics and Public Policy; School of Politics and International Studies; School of Finance and Management; School of Arts; School of Religions and Philosophy and the School of Languages.
- In addition to these Schools, the creation of ‘Professional Education’ as a department/school that merges all non-degree areas that are taught at SOAS.
- Mergers of different departments are being suggested in order to save money.
- The establishment of a ‘School of Global Affairs’, which sounds like it will become SOAS' policy arm, teaching postgraduates while advising governments alongside journalists, NGOs, and civil society activists for a bit of cash on the side.
Why is it a problem?
- There is a risk that the wide range of languages currently taught at SOAS will be threatened, destroying a major part of SOAS’ identity.
- Yet another proposal is the establishment of the School of Global Affairs, which sounds like it will become SOAS' policy arm, teaching postgraduates while advising governments alongside journalists, NGOs, and civil society activists for a bit of cash on the side.
- The proposal of creating 9 Schools in place of faculties will be potentially headed by “super-heads” that will be acting more like (overpaid) managers.
- By decentralising departments in order for them to manage their own money, this to vulnerability if they don’t recruit enough students.
- But also, some departments like languages who make less money receive cross-subsidies from larger departments such as Politics, Law and Development Studies. Cross-subsidies should be applauded since they help niche and smaller departments survive and for their valuable knowledge to be taught. However, cross-subsidies need careful structuring to ensure broad support.
- Apart from external pressure through the government's TEF plans, neoliberal managerialism continues to dig its claws into SOAS.
- A further manifestation of this is the back handed way in which SOAS has said it will increase fees by £250 in the next 2017/2018 academic year.
- SOAS as we know it is an institution that is famous for its critical outlook on the world. How will the School's restructuring preserve this?
Departments are being pressured, academics are being restricted, and decisions about the direction of our education are being taken away from academics and handed to highly paid managers.
Where are we now?
It’s not all negative! Since the 19th of October there have been positive progressions on rethinking the restructuring process in the original way the School/management proposed it.
On the 19th of October, three significant events happened. The Academic Senate comprised of almost all academics at SOAS and senior managers almost unanimously voted against the restructuring proposals management were originally pushing (as outlined above in the What is Restructuring). Following the Academic Senate, the Academic Board had a discussion on restructuring. Some conclusions made included effectively delaying any restructuring policies until January and also creating a Working Group so that the restructuring process is as open, representative and democratic as possible. Not just something that one person within management believes to be best for the SOAS community. On the evening of that very same day, the Students Union organised an Open Meeting to bring the issue of restructuring to the wider student body. The panel of the Open Meeting consisted of Sai Englert, Nithya Natarajan, Alfredo Saad Filho and Sandy Nicoll. The event was a chance for all students to hear about the dangers of the current restructure proposal from academics as well as Unions.
What are our suggestions?
In no way whatsoever do we reject the School restructuring. We simply reject the way in which it has been proposed. As a Students’ Union we believe the process should be democratic and more transparent. We now have an opportunity to propose alternative ideas for how our School could like.
- Demand space on the proposed Working Group for student representation. 2 Sabbatical Officers. Academic officer. 1 undergrad student. 1 PhD taught. 1 PhD research.
- Organise student-staff forums. The first being: ‘Restructuring: An alternative SOAS’ to discuss ideas for what a restructured SOAS could look like. (Look out for dates and times over the next couple of days.)
- Establish a student’s steering group that can feed into the wider Working Group.
- Use this opportunity to ask wider questions about SOAS. How can it decolonise? What should our curriculums look like? Who is SOAS for?
What can you do?
- Share and sign the petition.
- Come to the open meetings and student-staff forums we are currently organising. (Date, location, speakers be confirmed soon.)
- Speak/email to your lecturers/tutors to get their views.
- Email the school’s management.
- Actively think about what YOU think SOAS should look like.
- Have these discussions with your fellow students.