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Overseas university spotlight: SOAS University of London (UK)

In its 107-year history, SOAS University of London has strived to use its expertise in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to address the global issues of the present.


With 5,500 students and a campus right in the heart of London, SOAS is on the small side for UK institutions, but that's because it specializes entirely in the social sciences and humanities.


With a decolonial outlook on economics, politics, culture and religion, it's also perfect for students that are engaged and like to get involved with a cause; there is no shortage of movements on campus!


Here are some of the highlights from my trip to campus in February 2023.


SOAS student atrium
Current strikes and events

Academics


One of the perks of SOAS is its small class sizes (max of 12 students), putting it fifth in the UK for student to staff ratio.


Lecture hall
Student study space

Within the classroom, you'll also notice a diverse population, as there are more international students than 'home' students, by a 54-46% split.


And whilst most universities have more undergraduate students than graduate, SOAS is pretty evenly divided between both.


Within its degrees, language study is encouraged, and there are about 35 to choose from.


SOAS languages on offer

SOAS is also really strong in music within its specialist regions, and I was fortunate enough to sit in on an African drums lesson, which was amazing!


African drum lesson

Popular major subjects at SOAS include anthropology, politics and economics, the latter of which can be studied as a BA or BSc, depending on whether the student wants to focus on policy or more on the math side.


In the politics degrees, students study the organization of power in society (formalized systems, ideas, social structures and forces):


  • BA Politics: focuses on politics within borders

  • BA International Relations: politics across borders, war and conflict

  • BA International Relations and Politics: all of the above; the most popular choice

  • BSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics: includes a compulsory independent study project with a SOAS twist


Underpinning all the programs is the idea that graduates will be culturally and politically competent, intelligent and sensitive, which is important in any industry.


What does it mean to study politics?

What SOAS is most known for, however, is development studies, which is ranked #2 in the world.


During my visit, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Dr Michael Jennings about poverty, the experience of poverty, what is being done to alleviate it and why it is so difficult to escape.


Students in this program also learn how gender, climate change and global trade policies impact poverty - and whether or not development is actually a good thing.

For example, we were shown an image of Tanzania in the '60s and a shiny apartment building in London and asked which looked more developed.


At a quick glance, it would seem that the apartment complex was more developed, but the question is, at what cost? Pollution? Population displacement?


It was a fascinating discussion, and with 26 staff from 10 different countries, this department has widespread knowledge and perspectives.


Students learn that when it comes to development, context is key.

Final year development studies students also have the option to complete a dissertation or undertake a professional placement.


Campus


One of the best features of SOAS is its central London location.


It's right on the doorsteps of a number of world-renowned institutions, such as University College London, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and Birkbeck, University of London.


SOAS building

Whilst SOAS itself has a small footprint in the city (it's basically just three buildings), because it's a University of London member institution, its students have the benefit of being able to access the libraries, facilities, gyms and sometimes the student societies of other U of L schools, too.


Many SOAS students, for example, walk to UCL to get pizza!

Despite its small size, SOAS does happen to have the largest library in Europe for books on East Asia though, and it's home to one of the five national research libraries in the UK.


SOAS library

If you've watched the Netflix series 'The Crown,' you may even recognize the library, which was featured!


SOAS library featured in 'The Crown'
SOAS library featured in 'The Crown'
SOAS library
SOAS library

Besides the library, there are also other places to study, such as the Learning Lounge.


Learning Lounge

Housing is available within walking distance with the option of having a meal plan, too.


In the Students' Union, there are various places to hang out, including a bar.


SOAS Students' Union
SOAS Students' Union
SOAS Students' Union
SOAS Students' Union

I loved the atrium area, which is where you'll find student services and a cafe.


SOAS atrium
Atrium food options
Outside the student atrium

It's normally full of students, but I happened to visit during a study break.


SOAS University of London: Summary


For students looking to study social sciences and humanities in the UK and in particular, in central London, SOAS University of London has a lot to offer.


It's a small community with immense diversity across the staff and student body, and it attracts students who actively want to make a difference in the world, both locally and abroad.


LGBTQ+ History Month at SOAS
LGBTQ+ History Month at SOAS
SOAS campus

 

Interested in applying for college or grad school abroad?


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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