SOAS transformation plans being implemented

6 August 2020

SOAS is now implementing its transformation plans to put the School on a stable footing, following the Board of Trustees approval of its 2020/21 budget and a Transformation & Change programme.

The plans target investment at SOAS’s strongest teaching, research and services - by controlling costs, cash management and growing income.

The overall package gives SOAS financial strength to deal with the turbulence in the UK’s university sector triggered by COVID-19.

It comes as a positive and decisive response to the projected potential loss of £16.9m in 2020/21 created by the pandemic - modelled on a potential 50% year-on-year cut in international student numbers, 15% in UK students and 10% deferral rates from returning students.

The programme now being implemented has been shaped by extensive consultation with the entire SOAS community.

Professor Graham Upton, SOAS’s interim Director, and Paula Sanderson, the Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, are leading the implementation phase of the Transformation & Change plans.

The Board of Trustees’ main decisions included:

  • a £16.2m budget reduction in operating expenditure from the 2019/20 baseline including:
  • a £8.2m reduction in academic department budgets, with a £6.5m salary savings; £930,000 in non-salary savings; and £716,000 additional income.
  • a  £8m reduction in professional services budgets, with a £6.7m reduction in salary and £1.2m in non-staff cost budgets, alongside £155,000 in additional income.
  • restructuring the 11 existing academic departments based on business plans created by each Head of Department and their teams. There will be decisions on a tighter course portfolio; curriculum improvements; investing in knowledge exchange; distance and online learning over the 2020/21 academic year. This is on top of reducing the overall number of programmes from 189 to 129 and modules from 1073 to 826 - to eliminate very small programmes with limited opportunities to ensure high-quality learning and teaching.
  • restructuring professional services to support the student and staff community more effectively. This includes a new Student & Academic Services; Library, Learning, Research and Enterprise Services; Global Engagement Directorate; People Services; and Finance and Planning Directorate. Further work on the structure of Professional Services will also take place in the Autumn (in our Phase 3 work) relating to Human Resources; IT; Finance; and Marketing, Recruitment & Student Admissions.

The Board of Trustees also backed plans to reduce significantly the need for compulsory redundancies by introducing a Voluntary Severance Scheme (which has led to around 100 offers being accepted) and a Reduced Hours Scheme (which has enabled some 60 employees to choose to reduce to three or four days a week).

Chair of SOAS’ Board of Trustees Marie Staunton CBE said:

“SOAS needed this scale of restructure because there was no option. Covid-19 has triggered the worst recession in a generation; created a funding emergency across the entire higher education sector; and left SOAS facing the toughest financial test in our history.

“We had been on track to eliminate the structural deficit and get back to surplus by 2021/22 - but the pandemic and lockdown blew us off course. We did not have the underlying financial strength or business model to see us through without decisive action.

“The Trustees reviewed the Transformation & Change plan in great detail. We are confident it puts our finances on a stable footing. It will enable us to grow our income from teaching, research and funding in future. Above all, it will protect SOAS’ mission, vision and ethos for future generations”.

Interim Director Professor Graham Upton said:

“We’re now implementing our plan to rescue, recover and rebuild SOAS over the next 12 to 18 months as approved by the Board of Trustees. It puts SOAS on the road to recovery - to be financially strong and viable so we can invest strategically for the future.

“Our plans are the starting point for getting our finances on a stable footing - investing in our strongest, teaching, research and services; giving students outstanding academic and social experience; then building for the future with the new Director Professor Adam Habib.

“We have been open, transparent and honest. We have been straight there will need to be staff reductions to deal with the scale of the financial hit potentially triggered by the pandemic. SOAS is no different to scores of universities across the world in the same boat. We have been pleased SOAS is starting to come together, pull together and work together.

“The restructuring process is a challenging one. We are working hard with colleagues in our management teams, the wider staff community and our unions to minimise the need for compulsory redundancies. We're doing all we can to keep staff wherever we can and are confident most colleagues who are formally placed at risk will retain roles within SOAS.”