SOAS, University of London

SOAS University of London. Education in England. Study in United Kingdom.

SOAS, University of London Details

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SOAS, University of London is the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

SOAS is a remarkable institution. Uniquely combining language scholarship, disciplinary expertise and regional focus, it has the largest concentration in Europe of academic staff concerned with Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

On the one hand, this means that SOAS scholars grapple with pressing issues – democracy, development, human rights, identity, legal systems, poverty, religion, social change – confronting two-thirds of humankind  while at the same time remaining guardians of specialised knowledge in languages and periods and regions not available anywhere else in the UK.

This makes SOAS synonymous with intellectual enquiry and achievement. It is a global academic base and a crucial resource for London. We live in a world of shrinking borders and of economic and technological simultaneity. Yet it is also a world in which difference and regionalism present themselves acutely. It is a world that SOAS is distinctively positioned to analyse, understand and explain.

Our academic focus on the languages, cultures and societies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East makes us an indispensable interpreter in a complex world.

SOAS, University of London at a glance:

89% Satisfied

SOAS is above the national average for student satisfaction at 89% (National student survey 2013).

133 Countries

SOAS has more than 5,000 students from 133 countries on campus, and just over 50% per cent of them are from outside the UK. In addition, about 3,600 students around the world are taking one our distance learning programmes.

Equal Split

There is a roughly equal split between undergraduates (55%) and postgraduates (45%).

Mature Students

24% of undergraduates are over 21 when they start their course.

350 Combinations

More than 350 undergraduate degree combinations are available in social sciences, arts, humanities and languages, all with a distinctive regional focus and global relevance. And over 115 postgraduate programmes.


SOAS offers an unparalleled range of non-European languages, all of which may be studied without prior knowledge. The school was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2009 for the excellence, breadth and depth of its language teaching.


More than forty per cent of our undergraduate degree programmes offer the opportunity to spend a year studying in another country.

300 Academics

SOAS has the largest concentration of specialist staff (300+ academics) concerned with the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East at any university in the world.

National Leader

In the Research Assessment Exercise of 2008, more than 85 per cent of our submissions were ranked at either the highest grade of 4* (world-leading quality), 3* (internationally excellent) or 2* (recognised internationally).

11.3:1 Ratio

Small-group teaching remains an important feature of study at SOAS – our student-staff ratio (11.3:1) is one of the best in the UK.

Over 115 Postgraduate Programmes

SOAS has over 115 postgraduate programmes taught on campus and a wide range of degrees, certificates and diplomas taught by distance learning, in the social sciences, humanities and languages, with a distinctive regional focus and global relevance.


The SOAS Library – recently refurbished – has more than 1.5 million items and extensive electronic resources for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and attracts scholars from all around the world.

Schools / Colleges / Departments / Courses / Faculties

  • Africa
  • Anthropology and Sociology
  • Arts, School of
    • History of Art and Archaeology
    • Media Studies
    • Music
  • China and Inner Asia
  • Development Studies
  • Economics
  • Finance and Management
  • History
  • Japan and Korea
  • Language Centre
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Near and Middle East
  • Politics and International Studies
  • Religions and Philosophies
  • South Asia
  • South East Asia


The School of Oriental Studies was founded in 1916 at 2 Finsbury Circus, London, the then premises of the London Institution. The school received its royal charter on 5 June 1916 and admitted its first students on 18 January 1917. The school was formally inaugurated a month later on 23 February 1917 by King George V. Among those in attendance were Earl Curzon of Kedleston, formerlyViceroy of India, and other cabinet officials.

The school’s founding mission was to advance British scholarship, science and commerce in Africa and Asia and to provide London University with a rival to the famous Oriental schools of Berlin, Petrograd and Paris. The school immediately became integral in training British administrators, colonial officials and spies for overseas postings across the British Empire. Africa was added to the school’s name in 1938.

For sometime in the mid-1930s, prior to moving to its current location at Thornhaugh Street, Bloomsbury, the school was located at Vandon House, Vandon Street, London SW1, with the library located at Clarence House. Its move to new premises in Bloomsbury was held up by delays in construction and the half-completed building took a hit during the Blitz in September 1940. With the onset of the Second World War, many University of London colleges were evacuated from London in 1939 and billeted on universities all over the provinces. The School was, on the Government’s advice, transferred to Christ’s College, Cambridge.

In 1940, when it became apparent that a return to London was possible, the school returned to the city and was housed for some months in eleven rooms at Broadway Court, 8 Broadway, London SW1. In 1942, the War Office joined with the school’s Japanese department to help alleviate the shortage in Japanese linguists. State scholarships were offered to select grammar and public school boys to train as military translators and intelligence officers. Lodged at Dulwich College in south London, the students became affectionately known as the Dulwich boys.

Bletchley Park, the headquarters of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), was concerned about the slow pace of the SOAS, so they started their own Japanese-language courses at Bedford in February 1942. The courses were directed by army cryptographer, Col. John Tiltman, and retired Royal Navy officer, Capt. Oswald Tuck.

In recognition of SOAS’s role during the war, the 1946 Scarborough Commission (officially the “Commission of Enquiry into the Facilities for Oriental, Slavonic, East European and African Studies”) report recommended a major expansion in provision for the study of Asia and the school benefited greatly from the subsequent largesse. The SOAS School of Law was established in 1947 with Professor Vesey-Fitzgerald as its first head. Growth however was curtailed by following years of economic austerity, and upon Sir Cyril Philips assuming the directorship in 1956, the school was in a vulnerable state. Over his twenty-year stewardship, Phillips transformed the school, raising funds and broadening the school’s remit.

A college of the University of London, the School’s fields include Law, Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages with special reference to Asia and Africa. The SOAS Library, located in the Philips Building is the UK’s national resource for materials relating to Asia and Africa and is the largest of its kind in the world.The school has grown considerably over the past thirty years, from fewer than 1,000 students in the 1970s to more than 6,000 students today, nearly half of them postgraduates. SOAS is partnered with the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris which is often considered the French equivalent of SOAS.

In 2011, the Privy Council approved changes to the school’s charter allowing it to award degrees in its own name, following the trend set by fellow colleges the London School of Economics, University College London and King’s College London. All new students registered from September 2013 will qualify for a SOAS, University of London award.

In 2012 a new visual identity for SOAS was launched to be used in print, digital media and around the campus. The SOAS tree symbol, first implemented in 1989, was redrawn and recoloured in gold, with the new symbol incorporating the leaves of ten trees, including the English Oak representing England; the Bodhi, Coral Bark Maple, Teak representing Asia; the Mountain Acacia, African Pear, Lasiodiscus representing Africa; and the Date Palm, Pomegranate and Ghaf representing the Middle East.

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