By Abel Harvie-Clark
Students and staff at SOAS University of London are taking on their university management management with a vision of free, liberated education. Support fee strikers by sending this letter to demand no sanctions on fee strikers, and to back the strike’s demands.
Students have been on fee strike since February for an end to student fees amongst other demands addressing Covid-19 academic mitigation, the university’s implementation of Home Office policies, and its employment practices. Since then the Unison branch has voted no confidence in Adam Habib, the university’s director, and the students’ union passed a motion demanding his permanent removal, due to his use of a racial slur and failure to address ongoing racism at the institution.
Now, the fee strike is calling for solidarity by joining an email campaign against the interim management. The SOAS WTFees campaign, running the fee strike, is asking people to send this letter to demand no sanctions on fee strikers, and to back the strike’s demands.
No sanctions is an important demand as students must not be bullied into silence by an institution whose management has lost the legitimacy to claim a penny from its students. Students have had to deal with the exhausting and stressful experience of the director’s racism, alongside the continuing institutional racism, whilst sweeping staff cuts last year have left academic staff unable to give students the support needed. Further, research from Universities Resist Border Controls has shown that 56% of international students in the UK face deprivation due to a combination of extortionate student fees and rent, and the awful No Recourse to Public Funds.
In this scenario, it is absolutely unreasonable to force students to pay fees in order to graduate from their courses. Due to the financial pressure facing students, the university must negotiate incremental, longer term fee installments, or write off the fees entirely. In order to cover the costs of running the university, management should appeal to the government for a bailout of the higher education sector, and to underwrite all student fees, funded by taxing the richest. This should apply not just to home students (as in Scotland) but all international students too, whose fees are currently uncapped and can reach over £30,000 per year.
Beyond fees, the fee strike has called for an end to borders and surveillance in the university. The racist and islamophobic Prevent agenda, part of the governments’ anti-radicalisation program, is still enforced at SOAS, despite the anti-colonial branding of the school. Further, Home Office monitoring of international students adds to the hostile environment, and restricts students from participating in political organising. The campaign demands non-compliance with these policies, and works with the staff unions too to achieve this.
The campaign has highlighted the need for genuine democratisation of the university, and points to direct action like the strike itself as the best way to do this. University management is significantly weakened by the recent actions of the director, has been systematically failing to implement effective administrative services throughout this year, and faces multiple struggles from campus workers organising against poor working conditions and insecure contracts. Despite this, the possibility of once again employing outsourced staff has been floated amongst a range of neo-liberal policies to “ensure financial sustainability” for the institution. Outsourcing was ended at SOAS in 2018 after an 11 year struggle by the Justice for Workers campaign, and will be strongly resisted if any attempt is made to implement it again.
Right now, fee striking students need your support against bullying management, to continue putting forward this vision of free liberated education. Join and share the email action against management, and be ready to support escalating action if needed!