Research leave restrictions at SOAS prompt furious walkout call by part-time staff

Part-time teaching assistants at SOAS have declared a walkout on Thursday after directors announced planned restrictions to research leave. The SOAS University and Colleges Union (UCU) branch and Students’ Union have backed this action to stop any potential cuts.

Last week SOAS’s Executive Board informed academics that, as of this autumn, research leave may only be contractual or externally funded.

SOAS has not said how many academics will be affected by these changes. However, a spokesperson told London Student via email that the Board made the decision “to ensure that for 2020-21 we have a full complement of staff on campus”.

The new limits, therefore, caused immediate alarm among trade union activists, who concluded that fewer researchers on leave would mean reduced teaching hours for staff on non-permanent contracts.

So-called “fractional” staff on non-permanent contracts depends on covering for full-time academics on leave for many of their paid hours.

A war of words ensued early this week as the SOAS communications office rebuked claims to this effect. In a statement the School said, “no staff have been sacked; we continue to employ fractional staff for teaching”.

Yesterday, SOAS UCU shared a statement saying that, “Fractional budgets are being slashed.” They also encouraged SOAS members to join “a lunchtime Walk Out at 1pm this Thursday”.

SOAS specifically denied allegations over “slashed” budgets. Referring to 2019-20, a spokesperson said, “We have made no changes to fractional teaching in this academic year.” They added, “We have not yet set budgets for fractionals for 2020-21.”

Uncertain future

Serious concerns over plans for 2020-21, therefore, remain among SOAS members. A trade union official told London Student they believed that “you could argue that all 300 plus staff on fixed-term contracts are at risk but the actual number that will be cut is unknown.”

Meanwhile, leaflets circulated at SOAS claimed Deputy Director Stephen Hopgood said limiting research leave would “reduce costs, especially in salaries”. SOAS press officers have not confirmed if the quote is accurate.

Furthermore, UCU said directors consulted neither the union nor the Academic Senate before announcing their new policy.

Staff have also made calls for an emergency senate meeting for an open debate on the issue.

Opinion Editor. Cambridge History PhD student.

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