London Student Staff

SOAS library occupation is a turning point
for all students and managers in London

We’ve spent a long time bemoaning the lack of student political activity in recent times. So when in the space of a week a large-scale colelge occupation kicks off in our back yard and then quite a large demonstration takes place over tuition fees on our front doorstep, it feels like something very strange is going on.

SOAS students in occupation of their library are in a quandary. The library might be open more or less around the clock, but currently students are unable to take books out of it. So a large number of those students are becoming hostile to the people who kicked off the action in the first place.

This is entirely understandable – access is tricky enough, especially to students with disabilities or family commitments, for whom the school’s assurance that deadlines for assignments will be adjusted to compensate for the library’s ‘closure’ is not adequate recompense for the inconvenience being caused.

On the other hand, whilst this hostility is understandable, it’s also a great shame. The substantive issue at stake is an extremely important one. Almost no college libraries are any longer able to provide the books required by students to actually do their essays. Whether it’s because the range of books is inadequate, or because there aren’t enough copies of them, the fact stands.

SOAS students need full, unconditional access to the central University of London library at Senate House. Full stop. It is not important that the school insists that students can still get access if a tutor fills out the requisite forms or supplies someone with a letter of permission to join. Students should have library tickets without having to jump through hoops and layers of red tape to get them.

SOAS management (and the University library too, for that matter) seem to forget with alarming frequency that their institutions are being paid to provide decent educational resources. Whether fees are being paid by local educational authorities, overseas students, or in future (Godforbid) domestic students themselves, they’re being paid and students have a right to expect value for money. It doesn’t matter that home students are currently having the money spent for them by government.

So far (we go to press shortly before the school’s threatened eviction is due to take place) , incoveniences notwithstanding, the occupation ahs been an unqualified success. Certainly SOAS have been put in a situation where they can no longer ignore students’ views with impunity. That negotiations appear, tentatively, to have startedrepresents real progress. And nobody on this paper who has been to the occupants’ open meetings, where the crowd routinely tops 300 people, has ever seen so many students get involved in a student representation campaign before, anywhere. It’s time that the school started paying them attention.

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