The Student Room Group
School of Oriental and African Studies
London

Is SOAS (still) a good university?

Hello,

I've decided that I want to study Linguistics/Law with Chinese at SOAS and I was wondering if SOAS is still a good place to study? I am really passionate about Middle East and Asia, but all this political atmosphere, anti semitism and cancel culture is making me a little bit worried. I did visit the university and I really liked the most of the teachers and the small campus, however, visiting a university for an open day is different than studying there day by day. Anyone here who was a student or has experience there and can give me an insight?

Many thanks.
Besides a lot of top tier experts on ME/Asian affair are members of SOAS, I would like to share one advantage with U about studying in SOAS: when the important figures (scholars, diplomats, politicians, civic organisation leaders...) of ME/Asian affairs visit London and are going to offer seminars or events (e.g. launch of new book...) to meet informed public, SOAS is the number one place that would hold the events ---- or I should say Russell Square, including UCL, KCL, LSE, Birkbeck, and as students of SOAS U are welcome to join. Within walking distance U'd reach the political heart of UK, which is one of the dynamical hubs of world politics. If you have hesitation to develop your academic passion in SOAS, humbly asking, would you suggest me another place in UK that would be better than there? :h:
School of Oriental and African Studies
London
I'd note that SOAS still has a pretty high profile internationally, compared to other similar unis domestically. It's also generally also usually the second best option after Oxbridge for non-European languages in most cases.

I didn't notice much politically there outside of the SU being rather political but that's true of all SUs at every uni. The only reference to antisemitism I've found is historical allegations relating to anti-Israel sentiments and support of BDS, which is very different...?
Original post by Heyok
Hello,

I've decided that I want to study Linguistics/Law with Chinese at SOAS and I was wondering if SOAS is still a good place to study? I am really passionate about Middle East and Asia, but all this political atmosphere, anti semitism and cancel culture is making me a little bit worried. I did visit the university and I really liked the most of the teachers and the small campus, however, visiting a university for an open day is different than studying there day by day. Anyone here who was a student or has experience there and can give me an insight?

Many thanks.


Since others have answered the first part of this post very well, I thought as a previous student I'd try to answer some of your worries!

SOAS is famously political, but it's something you have to choose to become involved with. It's not a mandatory part of uni culture and I personally wasn't politically active outside of my personal life as a student. As long as you don't cross major picket lines (during lecturer strikes, for example), there's no expectation to be going on marches every weekend or anything like that. It's more that if you do want to do that, it's very easy to get involved with!

There's a whole debate about whether cancel culture exists and, to be honest, if you're a student with a limited/no public following I'm not sure how 'cancel culture' would actually work in practice in a uni setting. Unless you've done something so horrendous it warrants being kicked out. I found that for the most part there's a healthy approach to debate at SOAS and there's such a variety of people that you're always bound to get a variety of opinions too. Being an avid promoter of imperialism or worshipping far-right politicians won't make you the most loved student, but that's true at most UK unis. Most people come to SOAS because they agree with its core principles and approach to teaching -- if that's the case for you and you're a generally decent person, you don't have anything to worry about.

And finally, on anti-semitism. I think this accusation mainly comes from those outside of SOAS who don't understand what the uni actually stands for. Being an inherently anti-colonial uni, you're going to be taught post-colonial theory -- part of this includes thinking critically about Zionism and the state of Israel, as you'd expect. People often conflate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism when they're really very different topics. But, since there are sensitivities around the topic, it's always taught in a thoughtful and measured way.

A big driving force behind being anti-colonial is wanting to protect oppressed groups and challenge discrimination. This includes discrimination against Jewish people. While being a SOAS student/employee doesn't suddenly wipe away all the prejudices and preconceived ideas you might have about people, I don't get the impression it's a widespread or systemic issue within the uni. Then again, if you are Jewish yourself and concerned about prejudice at the uni, it may be worth reaching out to SOAS or current students to hear their experiences. The same goes for any other uni you apply to.

I would also like to make the point that outside of academic circles, SOAS can be quite polarising which is why I think you're coming across these rumours. A small (but frustratingly dedicated) section of traditional media has historically liked to write sensationalist articles about the uni because they see it as 'too woke' or 'too sensitive', or that SOAS students are all 'snowflakes'. When you actually get into the crux of what they're writing about, it's usually inaccurate of heavily overblown. I'd recommend seeking out past students' experiences as much as possible rather than relying on what non-SOASians think about it. That's not because SOASians are going to have 100% positive reviews -- far from it, and I actually think there are much more pressing issues at SOAS you'd need to consider than what you've mentioned above. Past students would definitely tell you all about that! So get chatting with past students and see how you feel :smile:

Hope that's helpful and do let me know if you have any further queries!
Original post by umbrellala
Since others have answered the first part of this post very well, I thought as a previous student I'd try to answer some of your worries!

SOAS is famously political, but it's something you have to choose to become involved with. It's not a mandatory part of uni culture and I personally wasn't politically active outside of my personal life as a student. As long as you don't cross major picket lines (during lecturer strikes, for example), there's no expectation to be going on marches every weekend or anything like that. It's more that if you do want to do that, it's very easy to get involved with!

There's a whole debate about whether cancel culture exists and, to be honest, if you're a student with a limited/no public following I'm not sure how 'cancel culture' would actually work in practice in a uni setting. Unless you've done something so horrendous it warrants being kicked out. I found that for the most part there's a healthy approach to debate at SOAS and there's such a variety of people that you're always bound to get a variety of opinions too. Being an avid promoter of imperialism or worshipping far-right politicians won't make you the most loved student, but that's true at most UK unis. Most people come to SOAS because they agree with its core principles and approach to teaching -- if that's the case for you and you're a generally decent person, you don't have anything to worry about.

And finally, on anti-semitism. I think this accusation mainly comes from those outside of SOAS who don't understand what the uni actually stands for. Being an inherently anti-colonial uni, you're going to be taught post-colonial theory -- part of this includes thinking critically about Zionism and the state of Israel, as you'd expect. People often conflate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism when they're really very different topics. But, since there are sensitivities around the topic, it's always taught in a thoughtful and measured way.

A big driving force behind being anti-colonial is wanting to protect oppressed groups and challenge discrimination. This includes discrimination against Jewish people. While being a SOAS student/employee doesn't suddenly wipe away all the prejudices and preconceived ideas you might have about people, I don't get the impression it's a widespread or systemic issue within the uni. Then again, if you are Jewish yourself and concerned about prejudice at the uni, it may be worth reaching out to SOAS or current students to hear their experiences. The same goes for any other uni you apply to.

I would also like to make the point that outside of academic circles, SOAS can be quite polarising which is why I think you're coming across these rumours. A small (but frustratingly dedicated) section of traditional media has historically liked to write sensationalist articles about the uni because they see it as 'too woke' or 'too sensitive', or that SOAS students are all 'snowflakes'. When you actually get into the crux of what they're writing about, it's usually inaccurate of heavily overblown. I'd recommend seeking out past students' experiences as much as possible rather than relying on what non-SOASians think about it. That's not because SOASians are going to have 100% positive reviews -- far from it, and I actually think there are much more pressing issues at SOAS you'd need to consider than what you've mentioned above. Past students would definitely tell you all about that! So get chatting with past students and see how you feel :smile:

Hope that's helpful and do let me know if you have any further queries!


As some who attends SOAS, I’m calling BS on the statements above ( parts of it anyway) . Unfortunately to be a “decent person” at SOAS you must have a very specific political ideology, opinion on certain things . If you deviate from that then youll be labelled a nazi / trump supporter .etc Regardless of what you actually think . Oh and god forbid if you should demonstrate even the most minute of conservative tendencies . You will be less loathed if you actually shot someone dead on campus in broad daylight .
Original post by Anonymous
As some who attends SOAS, I’m calling BS on the statements above ( parts of it anyway) . Unfortunately to be a “decent person” at SOAS you must have a very specific political ideology, opinion on certain things . If you deviate from that then youll be labelled a nazi / trump supporter .etc Regardless of what you actually think . Oh and god forbid if you should demonstrate even the most minute of conservative tendencies . You will be less loathed if you actually shot someone dead on campus in broad daylight .


Here's the thing, if you very publicly push opinions that are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the SOAS perspective, you're going to get kickback. You do find plenty of conservative people at SOAS, it's just the ones who are argumentative and antagonistic that get themselves into trouble over it. By 'decent person' I meant respectful and not starting arguments for no reason. It does make me laugh a bit when these kinds of people feel attacked by the amount of left-wing students at SOAS as though that's not what the uni is known for. If left-wing politics is that much of an issue for you, you've chosen the wrong uni!

My point was that if you like SOAS' approach to teaching (ie. anti-colonial, left-wing) and you're not trying to start arguments with people, you should be fine. If you're not studying an inherently political subject (like OP) and you're not hugely politically engaged, no one's going to force you to talk about politics or go to marches. It's 100% possible to find a crowd who is like you and that you get on with. In fact, I could probably count on one hand how many political debates I had at SOAS outside of my lectures/tutorials in a whole 4yr IR degree.
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by umbrellala
Here's the thing, if you very publicly push opinions that are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the SOAS perspective, you're going to get kickback. You do find plenty of conservative people at SOAS, it's just the ones who are argumentative and antagonistic that get themselves into trouble over it. By 'decent person' I meant respectful and not starting arguments for no reason. It does make me laugh a bit when these kinds of people feel attacked by the amount of left-wing students at SOAS as though that's not what the uni is known for. If left-wing politics is that much of an issue for you, you've chosen the wrong uni!

My point was that if you like SOAS' approach to teaching (ie. anti-colonial, left-wing) and you're not trying to start arguments with people, you should be fine. If you're not studying an inherently political subject (like OP) and you're not hugely politically engaged, no one's going to force you to talk about politics or go to marches. It's 100% possible to find a crowd who is like you and that you get on with. In fact, I could probably count on one hand how many political debates I had at SOAS outside of my lectures/tutorials in a whole 4yr IR degree.




I don’t feel attacked by the amount of lefties at SOAS for a start. What i am concerned about is the complete lack of tolerance to any idea that goes against the grain . I find it quite ironic here Soasians talk about tolerance , acceptance in its varying forms all of which I agree with , only to watch that tolerance go out the window the moment you for express an admiration for capitalism , or you think an open border and mass unregulated immigration is not a good idea . None of which i think can be considered by any rational person as extreme views .
Also there is a difference to a kick back against an idea that you don’t agree with , which is healthy and perfectly acceptable , and the full on belief your opinion mean you are the reincarnation of hitler .

I for example
Original post by Anonymous
I don’t feel attacked by the amount of lefties at SOAS for a start. What i am concerned about is the complete lack of tolerance to any idea that goes against the grain . I find it quite ironic here Soasians talk about tolerance , acceptance in its varying forms all of which I agree with , only to watch that tolerance go out the window the moment you for express an admiration for capitalism , or you think an open border and mass unregulated immigration is not a good idea . None of which i think can be considered by any rational person as extreme views .
Also there is a difference to a kick back against an idea that you don’t agree with , which is healthy and perfectly acceptable , and the full on belief your opinion mean you are the reincarnation of hitler .

I for example


I think where the 'lack of tolerance' comes from is that most SOAS students understand politics in a very academic way. If you're reading huge amounts of literature on the driving forces behind capitalism, how it was designed and why, who it benefits and damages (the same being said for immigration), most of us tend to come to the conclusion that the status quo is pretty rubbish and prejudiced. It's no coincidence the vast majority of academic institutions are left-leaning and that most research tends to be critical. So when one person is coming at a debate from the level of everyday political discourse and the other is drawing from leftist academia which is often deeply philosophical, you're really talking about totally different things. And because these are very personal and emotional topics, it's no wonder people get heated about it, especially when they're framed as moral issues. On the topic of being compared to Hitler, I'm surprised you think they sincerely believe that. A bit over the top to be taking seriously, but if you want to deep it that's on you. I do wonder who you're having these conversations with at SOAS and in what context, because I certainly did not spend my spare time at uni having debates over capitalism and immigration and I don't think my friends did either!

Anyway, this is hugely deviating from what OP actually asked about, so if you'd like to discuss elsewhere I think that would be much better than clogging up this thread :smile:
Original post by umbrellala
Here's the thing, if you very publicly push opinions that are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the SOAS perspective, you're going to get kickback. You do find plenty of conservative people at SOAS, it's just the ones who are argumentative and antagonistic that get themselves into trouble over it. By 'decent person' I meant respectful and not starting arguments for no reason. It does make me laugh a bit when these kinds of people feel attacked by the amount of left-wing students at SOAS as though that's not what the uni is known for. If left-wing politics is that much of an issue for you, you've chosen the wrong uni!

My point was that if you like SOAS' approach to teaching (ie. anti-colonial, left-wing) and you're not trying to start arguments with people, you should be fine. If you're not studying an inherently political subject (like OP) and you're not hugely politically engaged, no one's going to force you to talk about politics or go to marches. It's 100% possible to find a crowd who is like you and that you get on with. In fact, I could probably count on one hand how many political debates I had at SOAS outside of my lectures/tutorials in a whole 4yr IR degree.


Hi,

I’m applying for IR at SOAS and i was wondering if you recommend it? Did you find the course good? If you could choose again, would you go to another better ranked uni? I really love what SOAS focuses on and their values (minus the stuff i’ve heard about the director) so it’s my first choice but a lot of people have told me i should go to UCL or LSE instead just for the prestige. What did you go on to do after the degree and did you find it hard getting a job? I know it’s about extracurriculars too but yeah.
Original post by Anonymous
Hi,

I’m applying for IR at SOAS and i was wondering if you recommend it? Did you find the course good? If you could choose again, would you go to another better ranked uni? I really love what SOAS focuses on and their values (minus the stuff i’ve heard about the director) so it’s my first choice but a lot of people have told me i should go to UCL or LSE instead just for the prestige. What did you go on to do after the degree and did you find it hard getting a job? I know it’s about extracurriculars too but yeah.

Hiya,

Yes I absolutely would recommend it! I chose it for its international reputation as it ranks 15th globally (well above UCL at 30th although a few spots below LSE) and its specialisms are exactly what I was looking for. I can 100% attest to how high quality the IR department is, I have never had a module where I have felt the teaching has been sub-standard, and doing a dual honours degree I had plenty of perspective to compare. I genuinely think they're the best department at the uni! The only reason I might have chosen somewhere else was to have the more 'traditional' uni experience in terms of going out and partying, but there aren't many unis that are more academically rigorous. Don't let yourself be swayed by people who aren't familiar with the sector and think SOAS is rubbish just because they haven't heard of it -- within academia and in related fields it's incredibly well-respected. Even on my year abroad, academics there found it really impressive.

I currently work in a super exciting PR firm in central London, but I plan to move into the civil service at some point. I didn't find it hard at all to get a job -- I got the first one I applied to, which I thought was a long-shot at the time but they explicitly pointed out in the interview that they were impressed with my academics :smile:

Let me know if you have any further questions!
Original post by umbrellala
Hiya,

Yes I absolutely would recommend it! I chose it for its international reputation as it ranks 15th globally (well above UCL at 30th although a few spots below LSE) and its specialisms are exactly what I was looking for. I can 100% attest to how high quality the IR department is, I have never had a module where I have felt the teaching has been sub-standard, and doing a dual honours degree I had plenty of perspective to compare. I genuinely think they're the best department at the uni! The only reason I might have chosen somewhere else was to have the more 'traditional' uni experience in terms of going out and partying, but there aren't many unis that are more academically rigorous. Don't let yourself be swayed by people who aren't familiar with the sector and think SOAS is rubbish just because they haven't heard of it -- within academia and in related fields it's incredibly well-respected. Even on my year abroad, academics there found it really impressive.

I currently work in a super exciting PR firm in central London, but I plan to move into the civil service at some point. I didn't find it hard at all to get a job -- I got the first one I applied to, which I thought was a long-shot at the time but they explicitly pointed out in the interview that they were impressed with my academics :smile:

Let me know if you have any further questions!


What were your joint honours subjects?
Very underrated, SOAS is highly regarded by employers and academia. Prestige doesn't necessarily come from just high UK league table positions.
Original post by Anonymous
What were your joint honours subjects?


I did International Relations and Korean :smile:
Original post by StarLinyx
Very underrated, SOAS is highly regarded by employers and academia. Prestige doesn't necessarily come from just high UK league table positions.


Copy that!

Quick Reply

Latest