Student Questions and AnswersThese FAQs are for students and are updated regularly.
How can I contribute to the consultation on the SOAS 2016 - 2019 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
Consultation on the SOAS 2016 - 2019 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
We are currently reviewing a strategic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion with the aim of establishing a more effective and simpler structure that will promote progress against agreed objectives.
The new strategy will be all-inclusive and cover all areas of SOAS operation from teaching and assessment, the management of our buildings to our role as an employer. It will ensure that SOAS goes beyond its legal obligations as set out in the Equality Act (2010) and develop our reputation as a sector lead in this area. Whilst SOAS has a positive reputation on equality, diversity and inclusion, it is critical that we are not complacent. We can always do better.
This consultation document is an opportunity for all students, staff, and other members of the SOAS community to contribute to the development of this strategy at the earliest possible stage.
Download the form to take part:
I heard the three campus unions (Unison, UCU, SU) requested an inquiry into the dissemination of the 'Module Performance at SOAS' document on Curriculum Reform - what is the response to this request?
Curriculum Review – Key decision points
There have been a number of questions raised about the key decision points which led to the undertaking of a curriculum review in SOAS and in particular about a shift in focus the review from being „academic led to budget led‟. Below please find an outline of the key decision points.
In a paper to the Executive Board (EB) on 23rd February this year, EB was asked to approve a number of recommendations aimed at addressing the Sustainability of SOAS.
The Executive Summary of the paper sets out its purpose as:
- Outlining the key challenges for the School to address if it is to place itself on a sustainable footing in the next few years. The reform of academic structures, managing academic performance, workload and curriculum as well the structure of Departments and Faculties themselves are presented as possible measures to address financial deficits that have resulted due to poor student recruitment and REF performance.
- The recommendations were:
- the setting up of a task and finish group to address widespread duplication and overlap of courses and programmes and explore ways in which curriculum structure could be simplified
- to address issues of performance management and differences in academic workload with a view to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching delivery
- to progress the development and implementation of a common credit framework as soon as the principles are agreed by Academic Board
- to identify measures to reduce the disproportionately high spend on temporary fractional teaching staff
- to set up a working group to explore and design the most effective reconfiguration of academic structures
This paper was then further developed to include a more detailed timeline and reviewed again by EB on 2nd March before being discussed at the Heads Forum on the 5th March.
At Academic Board on 11th March the following was approved.
*A full review of curricula across Departments should be considered by Academic Board, in order to rationalize teaching delivery to facilitate research (whilst delivering an excellent student experience).”
Academic Board also noted that;
“More detailed proposals on elements of the recommendations, such as curriculum review and the academic performance framework would need to come to Academic Board for approval in due course.”
On 13th March the Sustainable SOAS paper was shared with the JNCC and then made available to all staff.
On 23rd March 2015, a paper on „Proposals for curriculum review and development: principles and process‟ was put to EB. The paper referred to the School beginning a process of curriculum review with a view to piloting in 2016/17. And that such a review, set against some basic principles, was to ensure that the departments and faculties will revisit the delivery of their taught programmes in the context of the student experience, taking account of a number of key components to assure the efficiency, relevance and validity of our provision.
The themes of the review were designed to achieve efficiencies in, and academic rigour of, our provision as follows:
- Reconsideration of how we provide breadth in UG curriculum (skills vs. knowledge)
- Reviewing Joint programmes
- Team teaching involving colleagues to co-teach alongside one another and share responsibility for planning, teaching, and assessing the progress of all students. Amongst other benefits, it will lead to a reduction in teaching hours and enable departments to plan for a more efficient sabbatical system
- Major review of assessment portfolio
- Increase employer engagement in curriculum design
- Integrated approach to internationalising the curriculum
- More integrated and visible way of rewarding teaching
- Using Liberal Arts to deliver further opportunities for students
During March and April a series of meetings were held with staff on the Sustainability of SOAS, these included two discussion forums with senior staff of the School (Professoriate and professional services managers) as well as all Staff open meetings. On April 16th the UCU Executive issued a statement to its members on the Sustainability document. In that statement they set out a number of areas of concern. These related to the Voluntary Severance scheme, proposed casualisation of the workforce, the Academic Performance Framework, the need for more information about the target surplus and proposed timescale for change. The statement made clear that the list of issues set out was „not exhaustive‟.
A curriculum review group was established comprising heads of four departments and professional services staff to explore the piloting of curriculum review in those four departments. A paper was produced which set out the following „key guiding principles‟ and was shared informally with members of EB
- Reducing the complexity of current portfolio: reduction in the number of optional courses (modules) taught and the number of programmes by renaming. Due to current complexity, many students end up on the wrong degree leading to high levels of transfers and drop-out in the first year
- Enhancing student satisfaction by populating courses optimally: leading to better student experience and good NSS scores. Introduce more core courses in first and second years to provide for critical mass.
- Enhancing research time at the expense of the other activities – evidence of high teaching and administrative load and modest REF performance
- Team teaching involving colleagues to co-teach alongside one another and share responsibility for planning, teaching, and assessing the progress of all students: amongst other benefits, it will lead to a reduction in teaching hours and enable departments to plan for a more efficient sabbatical system
- Embedding language acquisition in year 1 of all undergraduate programmes: so that students do not graduate without formal engagement with the learning of at least one Asian or African language
- Embedding work placements/internships in curriculum design: to enhance the attractiveness of our offerings and recruit able and talented students. Providing students the opportunity to spend at least one term abroad.
- Connected and distinctive curriculum: an integrated approach in which at least a quarter of the degree is taken outside the department, promoting inter-disciplinarity
- Co-curriculum alongside distinctive academic learning: a range of social activities and graduate attributes including skills development, volunteering, mentoring and enterprise undertakings to be part of formal learning
It was also proposed that programme level data be analysed between July and September in terms of admissions (applications, offers, enrolments etc), progression (withdrawals), financial (income from fees) and student satisfaction (feedback) criteria. And then discussions will then be held with Heads of Departments whose advice and views will be sought about programmes that appear to give rise to concerns. At the end of the process, a report will be made to Academic Development Committee at its first meeting of the next session, with an action plan for dealing with such programmes.
At the EB Away Day on 15th September there was a short presentation on Curriculum Reform: challenges and approaches. This covered key messages on satisfaction, progression and attainment.
On 28th September, an email was sent to the Deans with a document entitled Module Performance at SOAS and a breakdown of courses by each Faculty and they were asked to consider the information and share with their Heads of Department.
I subsequently sent a message to all staff and students which made it clear that I had not seen or cleared the document. The document was not discussed at EB.
From this review of the key decision points, it appears that the nature of the academic leadership of the curriculum review was not clarified at the outset. The principles underpinning the review remain sound and valid.
We are in the process of gathering the information from each Department on current curriculum reform activity. At the Academic Board on 11th November, I will seek their formal agreement that the Curriculum Review Steering Group proposed by the Academic
Development Committee not be established.
In January, following conclusion of the discussions on the strategic direction for SOAS, proposals will be put to Academic Board with respect to a Departmental led curriculum review process to lead to implementation of substantive changes from academic year 2018/19.
9th November 2015
What happens if my class didn’t take place due to the closure of SOAS Main Building on Thursday 29 October?
The closure of SOAS Main Building on Thursday, 29 October, meant that a small number of classes had to be cancelled. In many cases individual course convenors have already rescheduled classes. If you have not yet received information about the rescheduling of your class, please bring this up with your Student Rep or your course convenor. Affected classes will be rescheduled as soon as possible, either in Term 1 or early on in Term 2.
What does it mean if a member of staff has been suspended?
What is the School's view on the current sit-in the Brunei Suite?
UPDATE FROM THE REGISTRAR: Friday 23 October
Since Wednesday 14 October, the group engaged in the sit-in has made no contact with the SOAS senior team. The senior team invited the group to a meeting on Friday 16 October but the invitation was declined as the group was "too busy." In just over a week there have been several incidents of physical and verbal intimidation against School staff, as well as some minor criminal damage.
The sit-in continues to have a significant impact, both academically and financially. Key activities for Undergraduate Open Day on 21 October had to be relocated to the SCR (thanks are extended to all staff and the SCR committee for accommodating this), resulting in a less than ideal experience for prospective students on the most important Open Day of the year. A Careers event offering students the chance to meet with law firms, education providers and human rights law organisations was also disrupted. The School continues to lose income from commercial bookings.
This morning, the mains electricity and wi-fi in the Brunei suite were turned off. For health and safety reasons the lights have been left on. We continue to welcome dialogue with the group.
SOAS Registrar Laura Gibbs gave an update about the Brunei Suite sit-in on Friday 16 October:
You are all aware that students have been engaged in a sit-in in the Brunei Suite since 6 October. I wanted to give you an update on the current situation. The sit-in began on 6 October, but it was a week before the protestors came forward with any demands. The School is prepared to discuss these issues with the group, but they will have to end the sit-in first. The sit-in is having a negative impact on the academic and financial functioning of the organisation. The health and safety of our students and community is a top priority. We will continue to take any measures we feel necessary to ensure the safety of the group, as well as of all staff, students and visitors to our campus and buildings.
On Tuesday this week, we met with members of the protesting party and student union representatives and the group has now issued a set of “non-negotiable” demands, as set out in the list attached. We have made it clear to the group that they must leave the building before we are prepared to enter into detailed discussions with them. The School has been engaged in consultation with students and staff for some time over the need to make savings, curriculum review, facilities management, governance review and the Prevent duty.
The current sit-in is having a significant impact, both academically and financially. The PG Open Evening and Careers events had to be relocated at short notice to smaller spaces, which meant they had a lower turnout than usual and caused significant disruption to the staff that organise them. If the sit-in continues we will have serious difficulties hosting several major academic events, as well as the upcoming UG Open day on 21 October – this is the most important Open Day of the year and key to our recruitment plans for 2016 entry. If the sit-in continues the UG Open Day will have to be relocated, probably to the SCR, at significant inconvenience to staff. It will also be a less than ideal experience for our prospective students.
We have lost income from commercial bookings, through the cost of relocating certain events to external venues and from our catering services, which are prevented from accessing the kitchens behind the Brunei Suite.
The School has formal and informal consultative communications processes in place that enable staff, students and the Students’ Union to raise issues of concern with the Director, the Registrar and other senior members of staff. The group has not sought to use these channels for discussion of their concerns.
Below please find an update on the way we are already addressing issues raised by the group in the Brunei Suite:
The 'Justice for Cleaners' campaign has been running at SOAS since 2006. The School has ensured that all our cleaners are paid the London living wage, are entitled to sick pay, holiday allowance and pension and they are recognised by the unions.
The School is currently re-procuring a range of facilities management services including cleaning, security and maintenance. The tender document states clearly that any supplier must be able to demonstrate that they share our values. A key selection criterion is our expectations in relation to staff management, including evidence of best practice employment procedures, staff development and employee relations. In addition, we are working with Unison and the existing service providers to address the current concerns raised by some staff.
As the Director made clear, the curriculum review will be bottom-up. The leaked document highlighting courses for closure was not seen by her nor was it discussed at the School's Executive Board. It should never have been circulated and has been withdrawn. Discussions are ongoing with Departments and Faculties on the review.
The School faces financial challenges and has to make significant savings over the next 2-3 years. The School is engaging in informal discussions with staff between now and Christmas as to how these savings might be achieved. This will be a fully consultative process and the School is committed to working closely with the recognised unions, UCU and Unison, as part of this process. The School proposes to achieve any savings relating to staffing costs via voluntary means.
Section 26(1) of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a duty, on specified bodies, when exercising their functions, to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This duty is known as Prevent. The School has already made a clear statement on the importance it places on its duty to provide a safe space for free speech and will continue to lobby the Government directly and via Universities UK on these issues. The School is committed to meeting its legal obligations and implementing Prevent in accordance with our values. A working group has been set up with representatives from across our community to oversee the implementation. UCU, Unison and the Students’ Union have been invited to attend the meeting. However, the Students’ Union has declined to participate in the group.
The Board of Trustees has set up a group to carry out an effectiveness review of both the Board and its constituent committees. As part of this review there will be full consultation across the School and the opportunity for staff and students to feed their comments into the process. The Group will also be meeting with representatives from the Democratise SOAS campaign to hear their thoughts and recommendations. The Group has already identified academic governance and the role of Academic Board as a priority area for review, as well as the wider issue of ensuring that academic and student voices are heard in decision-making. Steps have been taken to make the business of School committees more transparent to staff and students, with papers and minutes made available earlier and, where possible, in advance of meetings.
The Boycott Divestment Sanctions opinion poll, which took place at SOAS last year, was organised and run by the Students’ Union. The Students' Union is an organisation independent of SOAS University of London. The poll was not endorsed by SOAS.
While the poll was described as a ‘referendum’ by the Students’ Union, no details were provided in advance for what would make it quorate or valid. In addition, less than 30% of the SOAS community responded. As highlighted in the Students’ Union’s own correspondence, the School had no legal obligation to act on the result of the vote.
SOAS is committed to maintaining a neutral platform and ensuring that all members of our diverse community are free to express their opinions in a mutually respectful and collegial environment. This can only be conducted effectively in an atmosphere of open enquiry, mutual tolerance and intellectual freedom.
What is new the new Prevent duty and what does it mean for SOAS?
The Prevent duty, which came into force on Monday 21 September 2015, requires universities and other authorities (including local authorities, health care providers, prisons, the police) to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. It is a legal duty, enshrined in Section 29 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 as part of the Prevent strategy, which aims to reduce the threat to the UK from terrorism by stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
SOAS’ Board of Trustees (formerly known as Governing Body) has a role in ensuring compliance with the duty. Compliance with the duty is a prerequisite of the School’s continued licence to take students from outside the EU. Non-compliance with the duty may result in a mandatory direction enforced by the Secretary of State under Section 30 of the Act.
How does the Prevent duty impact on academic freedom and freedom of speech?
SOAS Registrar Laura Gibbs says:
It is understood that the aims of the duty are to ensure that staff are able to respond appropriately where students are providing cause for concern: this is not incompatible with the School’s obligation to provide pastoral support for our students across a whole range of issues. The duty does not entail monitoring or targeting students from particular groups, faiths or nationalities.
As we have made very clear, SOAS is committed to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. This can only be conducted effectively in an atmosphere of open enquiry, mutual tolerance and intellectual freedom. We provide a unique, high-profile platform for nuanced, informed debate in the centre of one of the world's greatest cities. We protect and respect these key freedoms but also recognise that the rights to academic freedom and freedom of speech and expression are not absolute - they are freedoms within the law.
How will the School ensure compliance?
SOAS Registrar Laura Gibbs is the School lead on the duty. A working group has been established to understand the risk, carry out any actions and ensure compliance with the duty and Act. Some of the required actions include a review of School policies to make specific reference to the duty, training for staff, a risk assessment and associated action plan and active engagement and cooperation with local Prevent coordinators, the police and local authorities.
SOAS already has in place a robust code of practice for events held on campus and conducts due diligence on all such activities. It is not anticipated that the new duty will create large new burdens on institutions and it should be implemented in a proportionate and risk-based way. Therefore, the financial impact is expected to be minimal.
How has UCU responded to the Prevent duty?
What is the progress of the Facilities Management Project launched in January 2015?
In January 2015 SOAS set up a Project Board reporting to Executive Board, tasked with the implementation of a new set of facilities management services (cleaning, security, maintenance, portering etc.) for delivery in June 2016. This followed the collapse of the project led by the University of London to develop a cost-sharing service model for such services across the Bloomsbury Colleges. The Project Board was chaired by the Registrar and included representatives of different service users, including staff and students.
At the time, the Registrar said: ‘Alongside seeking best value for the School, my priority is to secure excellent terms and conditions for all outsourced staff on a par with those of ISS cleaning staff, who have among the best terms and conditions in London.’
The first phase of the project was to understand the requirements of the School in order to identify the most appropriate business model. This process involved discussions with a range of colleagues from across the School to understand their views on the services needed. The analysis included several different models of facilities usage, taking into account the extension of the campus into Senate House North Block as well as additional pressures on the remainder of the campus from increased student numbers.
What recommendations have been made after the first phase of the project?
The Project Board has concluded that the best model for SOAS is something approaching what is described as a Total Facilities Management Solution – this is where all services are provided by one supplier. In this model the supplier provides the interface between the end users of the service as well as the management function charged with overseeing day to day delivery of the services.
How does the proposed model differ from the current arrangements?
In the current model, the School has to manage multiple suppliers, each delivering an individual service (including catering, cleaning, maintenance, security, distance learning, residential accommodation, careers service and environmental services). In addition, SOAS provides a layer of management to oversee the work at an operational level.
In contrast, in the new model the School would move to a more strategic role, focusing on management of the contract and the relationship with the supplier. Moving to this model will probably require some restructuring of the current Estates and FM department at SOAS. Any such restructure will be managed under the standard SOAS change management processes.
Once the new supplier has been selected the staff (cleaners, maintenance, security etc.) employed by the existing supply companies will transfer to the new employer under TUPE legislation. A key requirement of the selection process is that the successful company must demonstrate values and management practise in line with expectations of SOAS, this requirement is detailed as follows;
"SOAS is the UK's leading centre for the study of a range of language-based humanities and social sciences subjects concerned with Asia, Africa and the Middle East. SOAS has a particular concern with international issues such as human rights, poverty reduction and globalisation.
“SOAS has developed key Core Values for its Vision and Strategy and as an institution it is important for us that we act as we think. Those that SOAS seek to partner with must demonstrate an understanding acceptance of these Core Values through the highest standards of deportment and practice. This includes a genuine commitment to the personal development and well-being of its employees at all levels and a desire to positively engage and communicate with a diverse range of stakeholders in a transparent and equal manner."
What happens next?
The next phase of the project is to procure and implement the new services model for delivery in June 2016. The procurement process is governed by EU legislation and is by a open invitation to tender. Once the tenders are received at the end of the year the project board will review the submissions against the agreed set of requirements to select the supplier.
ANSWER PUBLISHED: 17 SEPTEMBER 2015
How are students' views shared with senior management at SOAS?
The Director has regular meetings with the Students’ Union Co-Presidents. The Secretary and other senior members of staff also meet with them on both a formal and informal basis to discuss a wide range of issues that affect students at the School. In addition, almost all committees of the School have student members and the Director meets with groups of students from each Department throughout the year. The School regularly carries out consultations to gather student views on a wide range of issues - for example, there was excellent engagement with students through open meetings and surveys on the plans to develop the North Block of Senate House. In addition, the School takes very seriously the results of the annual National Student Survey of final year students, which are used to inform Departmental development plans.
You can get in touch with the Students' Union Co-Presidents and Executive to share your views.
I have heard that SOAS management was complicit in the deportation of cleaners at the School in 2009. Is there any truth in this?
No. In June 2009, the UK Borders Agency (UKBA, which is now called UK Visas and Immigration) visited SOAS with a warrant to enter the premises to check the eligibility to work amongst contracted cleaning staff employed by ISS. A number of students and staff did accuse the School at the time of 'colluding' with UKBA. However, SOAS had no option but to comply with UKBA's request for access. The UKBA was a statutory government body and SOAS and its contractors, including ISS, are legally bound to comply with all statutory obligations.
In summer 2009 the School undertook a thorough investigation of ISS in relation to the UKBA visit and was satisfied that no improper action had been undertaken by its contractors.