Thought some of the new/prospective students might be interested in reading this. It's very balanced and informative, from the student editor.
taken from: http://education.guardian.co.uk/choo...669254,00.html
if you'd prefer to read it in its original format.
What's it like at Soas?
What's it like to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas)? The editor of the student magazine will tell you, in the third of a series of questionnaires
Saturday December 17, 2005
Name: Matthew Phillips
University/college: The School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas)
Student position: Editor of student magazine
Studying: BA History (East Asia)
What's the price of a pint (of lager)?
The cheapest pint of lager at the Soas bar is £1.60, which for London is about as good as it gets. Perhaps more of an obstacle to the random night in the bar is the rather sporadic closing times, which are sometimes as early as 7.30pm. However, being part of the University of London Union (ULU), students from Soas are free to drink on in the ULU bar that is just around the corner. Prices there are about the same, but it is always open till at least 11pm, if not later.
And the price of a kebab?
Unfortunately, the effort required to find a kebab shop in central London can often be more trouble than it's worth. I have too many memories of walking for miles with someone who knows where a place is, only to be horrified at the prices once we got there. The best idea is to give up on a kebab and walk down to Soho. Chinatown has some exceptional places to eat that are generally very reasonably priced; you'll also not regret it so much in the morning.
What's it like as a place to live?
Of course, there are certain difficulties that come as part of the whole London package, and these are all things that require working out on your own: like the easiest, and cheapest way to get to Soas for example. However, there are also some pretty hefty bonuses. Oxford Street is a 10-minute walk down the road, and the West End another five, offering an unrivalled choice in film, theatre and music venues. Your ability to take advantage of these benefits will depend upon your financial situation. However, there is no doubt that whatever you could "need", in London it's always just around the corner.
As far as student services are concerned, ULU is a fantastic facility. In addition to the student shops, a canteen and two bars, the lower floors are devoted to sports facilities. For £25 a month you can gain access to the gym, swimming pool, and a vast array of classes from yoga to aerobics.
What's it like as a place to study?
The number of colleges in the vicinity of Soas makes the area one of the most vibrant areas of academic study in the world. Waterstone's opposite ULU, formerly Dillons of Gower Street, is renowned for being the largest academic bookshop in Europe. The Soas library is of course one of the best libraries covering Asia and Africa in the world, and the Soas bookshop stocks the necessary textbooks and study packs. Most exciting is the British Library that is only a short walk away, and as well as the collections, offers a fantastic environment to escape and mull over the latest essay or chat with a friend over a coffee. It is also worth noting the large amount of "free" culture, art galleries and museums are in plentiful supply, and all easily accessible.
What are the teaching staff like?
Generally, the teaching staff at Soas are superb. Due to the lack of academics specialising in Asia and Africa, lecturers are almost always leaders in their field. Also, the majority of courses at Soas have a relatively small intake due to their specialist nature. These smaller classes often create a much more relaxed and intimate environment in which to study, and allow for individual students to build strong relationships with their tutors.
However, it is becoming apparent that a lack of government funding is undermining these advantages. As the school struggles to pay for its specialisation, the least popular classes are being merged and departments are becoming more centralised. It may be that it is increasingly left to students to take the initiative in securing such relationships with the teaching staff.
What's the social life like?
As with most London universities, Soas does not have a campus as such. The majority of students, after their first year, live in independent groups scattered across the city, and very often quite a distance from Soas itself. As a result, socialising requires a little more effort. However, the Soas union, does host innumerable events throughout the year and the social scene in Soas, if you get involved is as vibrant as anywhere else. Also, with a social foundation at Soas, it is possible to enjoy and explore the whole of the capital city, by learning from others the best places to go out.
What are the student societies like?
On the surface of it the choice of societies at Soas are exceptional and quite unique, something that reflects the diverse student body. There are also a vast number of them, covering sports, martial arts as well as cultural and political areas. This is particularly impressive, considering the relatively small number of students at the school, about 4,000. The only problem is that they can often feel quite exclusive. Unlike other universities, societies tend to be formed around a particular region or issue; and this is what tends to dictate social groups. In other words, while at a large red brick university the Law society, for example, will bring together people from all sorts of backgrounds, at Soas most societies are made up of people with specific interests, be it Thailand, Palestine, or Africa. Societies at Soas are rarely places just to get drunk and it certainly helps to be passionate about something. Saying that, it is very easy to set up a society, and if the demand is there maybe a drinking society could be on the cards.
What's the accommodation like?
Unless you have friends at Soas already, the first year is best spent at Dinwiddy, the only halls of residence for undergraduate Soas students. In their favour they are conveniently placed, in walking distance from the school's two campuses. However, they are also overpriced, and the private company that runs them is renowned for being extremely poor at dealing with student concerns. If you can find people to share a house with, or are willing to share with people you don't know, then the ULU website is the best place to look for reasonably priced accommodation.
What do the locals make of students?
At university towns across the country, September sees a surge in the population of young adults eager to spend their student loans in bars and clubs that often only exist to cater for students. In London this is not the case, the arrival of September goes by unnoticed and students are left to share the same pubs and clubs as all the other visitors to the city. In other words, London doesn't have 'local', but is a much more fluid community where nobody would think to distinguish a student from anyone else.
What's your favourite place in the university?
The Soas bar. The jukebox in the corner, free to use, is consistently full of the most bizarre mix of tunes from Vivaldi to the Beatles. Over the top of the music flows a constant stream of lively and always passionate debate. For me it is the perfect place to seek refuge on Friday evening after a busy week: a place to put all you have learnt into its proper context, over a pint.
What's the worst place?
When I say that I hate the library, it is not for the obvious reasons. Choosing my essay title too late and finding all the books have been taken is not really the library's fault. My problem is the heating system: it's always so hot and as of yet I have failed to spend more than half an hour reading before falling asleep.
What makes you proud of your university?
Soas is an exciting place to study. I remember before I decided to come here a friend's mum recounting what she had heard of the Soas canteen: the vast array of languages being spoken, the diverse issues that are important to people. For an inquisitive mind the school offers an absolutely unique opportunity. I am very dubious about words like "multicultural", but if anywhere is working out what it means to live in a global community, Soas is certainly trying. It is a place that forces you to think more broadly, to pick up a newspaper and see past the headlines, to actually care about the world around you, and not be scared to talk about it.
And what makes you cringe about it?
During three years at Soas there are bound to be times when there is a difficulty to overcome. One word of warning: don't expect anyone to actually help you. Not that they are unkind, but because no one ever has an answer for you. I am not quite sure why this is, but rest assured everybody says the same thing. Three years in, and I am yet to know who my personal tutor is, or even get a clear answer as to how my degree is worked out. For most this idiosyncratic throwback to a bygone age is a slightly annoying but acceptable eccentricity. But sometimes, when you have a real problem and no one can tell you what the procedure is, especially if you're ill, it can be very infuriating.
How would you recommend it to your brother/sister?
I must admit that I love Soas, and would be over the moon if my sister said she wanted to study here. However, if I were honest, I feel that I would have to point out to her that Soas can be quite difficult, and requires a lot of motivation to make it work. The fact that half the people here are so clearly focused on what they are passionate about can isolate those who aren't so sure. It is a place where the line between study and extracurricular is a thin one. For those who are unsure of their course - as I was when I first got here - this can be very difficult. However, the challenges can in the long run be extremely rewarding, and provide much more of a foundation for life after university than simply an academic education. A truly international student body, all engaged in different areas of the world, does not necessarily create harmony. It does however create the most fantastic arena for debate and self-exploration.