Institutional Vandalism: The University & Covid-19

by | 8 Jun 2020

The Guardian’s 29 May article (‘Soas to slash budgets and staff as debt crisis worsens in a pandemic’) has brought attention to a worrying development, which risks seeing losses of livelihoods and expertise at a unique and world-renowned institution. The danger is that framing SOAS’s financial difficulties in isolation obscures the fact that this is a sector-wide crisis that will only be resolved by a turnaround in government policy. In a highly marketized education sector, speculation about a university’s future can impact student numbers, the institution’s lifeline. This is the Catch-22 that university sector workers are now trapped in: to name a crisis is to make it worse.

Higher education institutions across the UK are seeing shrinking budgets, restructurings and massive terminations of contracts for casualised staff, with further redundancies in the wings. These redundancies are being made with little or no scrutiny of the impact on race, gender and other inequalities that already plague the sector. The precarious workers on which Higher Education Institutions have depended for years are now being asked to shoulder the costs of poor regulation and, in many instances, mismanagement. And their termination notices are being issued by vice-chancellors and directors whose ballooning salaries make the austerity measures they were hired to enforce even more galling. But the problem ultimately lies with the government’s university policies and it is only a sector-wide solution that will resolve it.

Imposing the Office for Students’ financial guidelines in the middle of a pandemic that has thrown higher education into a tailspin will lead to irreversible institutional vandalism. Books may be ‘balanced’, but livelihoods will be lost, expertise squandered, students deprived of opportunities, and economic harm wreaked on a vital sector for the UK’s economy, society and international standing. The government’s timid fiddling with the student caps is woefully inadequate to the task of protecting the UK university sector. As the University and College Union has called for, and Universities UK (the employer’s body) has also recognised, a Covid bailout is imperative if a massive contraction in the sector is to be averted. This will need to be accompanied by a reversal of a decades-long government policy of transforming public universities into competing public-private enterprises, a policy that this crisis has revealed to be unfit for purpose.

*This letter was originally sent to The Guardian which opted not to publish it.

Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations, SOAS

Donatella Alessandrini, Professor of Law, University of Kent

Les Back, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths

Gurminder K. Bhambra, Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies, University of


Brenna Bhandar, Reader in Law and Critical Theory, SOAS

John Chalcraft, Professor of Middle East History and Politics, LSE

Gail Day, Professor of Art History & Critical Theory, University of Leeds

Steve Edwards, Professor of History and Theory of Photography, Birkbeck

Akwugo Emejulu, Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick

Mary Evans, Emeritus Professor, University of Kent

Natalie Fenton, Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths

Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communication Studies, Goldsmiths

Paul Gilroy

Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Queen Mary University of London

Peter Halllward, Professor of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University

John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology, University of Nottingham

Engin Isin, Professor in International Politics, Queen Mary University of London

Feyzi Ismail, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS

Catherine Jenkins, Lecturer in Law, SOAS

Laleh Khalili, Professor of International Politics, Queen Mary University of London

Scott Newton, Reader in Laws of Central Asia, SOAS

Rahul Rao, Senior Lecturer in Politics, SOAS

Jacqueline Rose, Professor of Humanities, Birkbeck

Catherine Rottenberg, Associate Professor in American & Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham

Evelyn Ruppert, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths

Alfredo Saad-Filho, Professor of Political Economy and International Development, King’s College London

Sanjay Seth, Professor of Politics, Goldsmiths

Bev Skeggs, Professor of Sociology, University of Lancaster

Alberto Toscano, Reader in Critical Theory, Goldsmiths

Vron Ware, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, Kingston University

Lynn Welchman, Professor of Law in the Middle East and North Africa, SOAS

Jim Wolfreys, Senior Lecturer in French and European Politics, King’s College London

1 Comment

  1. As a private teacher for over 58 years in several nations and two continents, I am resigned to the end of the United Kingdom in the world which resulted in Brexit. Brexit is racism. Brexit is nationalism. Nationalism is war. The corporate media does not inform the subject, the citizen, the sheeple. The systemic fascism of the UK is now completing the end of education which is necessary in order to control the sheeple in the feudalism that the UK is returning to. The “Titanic” success of Brexit is as ironic as calling the current demonstrations “thuggery”. Only a revolution will begin the world anew. “There will be no revolution” is readily on the lips of every person on the street. The solution seems to be the same as my grandfather in 1911: immigrate. The elite rich political class, all Brextremists, are laughing all the way to the bank. May that long continue to make fools of the British sheeple, impotent to a man/woman.


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