SOAS starts a fees strike

Submitted by AWL on 16 February, 2021 - 7:08 Author: Abel Harvie-Clark

Students at SOAS [a university in London centred on the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East] are refusing to pay fees as leverage to win their demands on the university management.

Close to 1000 students (out of around only 5000 “campus” students, i.e. students who would be on campus in usual conditions, as distinct from those online-only anyway) signed a petition supporting the call for a bailout, pledging solidarity with staff against insecure contracts and “restructuring”, and further demanding that the university does not comply with the government’s Prevent and Hostile Environment policies.

A good relationship between Student Union officers and campus union campaigns has kept the interests of staff and students aligned. Students want better access to library and study facilities, but there is an understanding that this cannot be achieved by jeopardizing the safety and working patterns of workers.

The campaign looks to strengthen this solidarity − if management cuts off online resources for striking students, pirate-sharing from staff and also other students will be important to sustain the strike.

The rejection of Hostile Environment is important because the surveillance that the university does on behalf of the Home Office restricts the capacity of international students to participate in campaigns and action. Students have pointed out the hypocrisy of SOAS’s anti-colonial branding.

Negotiations are set to begin this week between the strike committee and management.

Whilst he is unwilling to show face at initial discussion, newly installed director Adam Habib has experience of dealing with fee strikes. Habib was vice-chancellor at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg during the Fees Must Fall campaign, and called cops to campus, who beat up protesting students.

Habib’s first response to the student petition was more concerned with our “tone” than addressing the demands. SOAS students are clear and committed in their demands to reorganise HE, and the need for collective action, not just politeness, to achieve this.

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