SOAS is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
We offer a truly global perspective. Our knowledge, experience and connections in relation to the politics, languages, cultures and societies of our specialist regions make us uniquely placed to inform and shape current thinking about the economic, political and cultural challenges of our world.
Our approach is underpinned by a desire to build a world filled with cohesion and equality, through our commitment to high-quality scholarship, collaborative relationships, and through an emphasis on arts, culture and democratic engagement. There has never been a more important time to engage with SOAS’ research and global networks.
SOAS was founded in 1916 to equip those involved in colonial governance and trade across the British Empire with specialist language skills and knowledge of Britain’s colonies. More than one hundred years on, we respond to our past by emphasising Decolonisation as integral to our overall mission and approach.
SOAS’ commitment to confronting our own history calls for us to situate our teaching, research, knowledge exchange, impact and outreach activities within a global perspective. Our specialist expertise in Africa, Asia and the Middle East is now complemented by a broader concern with global politics, economics, arts and culture and international law, institutions and governance. Global engagement is embedded in all that we do, and “promoting cultural understanding” first on our list of core values.
Our relatively small size, location in the heart of London’s university district, distinctive disciplinary focus in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and strong sense of shared values engenders a genuine sense of loyalty and affection amongst the wider SOAS community. There is meaningful solidarity across the campus and its diaspora, and with our reputation for activism on a range of issues of social justice, SOAS generates support from many other sectors and institutions, with the “SOAS steps” on the campus in Bloomsbury consistently and organically drawing in local and global speakers and activists, contributing to the general buzz found across the campus.
Key to our Research Strategy and Decolonisation ethos, our commitment to collaborative and equitable partnerships illustrates how we stand apart from other universities that undertake work in the same geographic regions. SOAS’ sense of desire to address power imbalances affects how we operate at all levels; within our internal operations, as well as our external relations, lies a sense of democratic process and social justice, and this is reflected in the way we undertake knowledge exchange. Our activity is all about putting our values into practice.
SOAS works in partnership with all levels of government, business, and civil society: we co-produce research, deliver consultancy and commissioned projects, up-skill and educate individuals and teams. Our long-standing and influential relationships with prominent national and international organisations and governments are testament to how the excellence of our research has built our reputation as experts in our key regions and disciplines.
To generate impact in the form of social, political and economic enrichment, we nurture relationships with communities and stakeholders across the world, taking our place as a globally-renowned institution. We are also committed to developing meaningful partnerships with private, public and third-sector organisations across London and the UK that share our values and goals, making us a significant part of the cultural heritage of the city, and across the UK.
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Local Growth and Regeneration
Summary of approach
SOAS is one of the most international universities in the world, with a huge global reach despite our small size. We are also a London university: a college of the University of London, an important part of the cultural and economic life in Bloomsbury, a stop on the Museum Mile, and with a student body primarily from the capital. Our “local community” isn’t just London, however: our staff, students and alumni have a strong sense of social purpose and make remarkable contributions to cultural and creative industries, skills and learning, local economic growth, and social inclusion in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. At SOAS, global is truly local.
Aspect 1: Strategy
We want to impact the local and global communities with which we engage, across the UK and around the world - a primary aim within SOAS’ Vision and Strategy 2016-2020. This is driven by our desire to challenge the status quo, and promote a sense of global citizenship and mutual understanding through engaging with governments, organisations and individuals. This ultimately strengthens our ability to influence public debate and understanding, and impact policy.
We are committed to:
Deepening knowledge about Asia, Africa and the Middle East, supporting cultural exposure and promotion
Strengthening our external focus through local and international partnerships (including community outreach, Enterprise and Knowledge Exchange)
Developing academic collaboration and intellectual exchange with a range of institutions, organisations and movements
With 56% of students from overseas and with our regional focus, even among global universities, SOAS is truly international. While we have a strong connection to our “local” community within London, we are especially connected to our stakeholders across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
We strive to form equal partnerships with other countries; an equitable approach to deploying our expertise, research and other assets. This is key to understanding what stakeholder communities need. We nurture this through individual links with research stakeholders and partners, through departments including Research and Knowledge Exchange, Widening Participation, Careers, Brunei Gallery, the Library and our Centres and Institutes. We value sustainable development, as members of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and consistently high performers in the Impact Rankings.
SOAS’ character as a small, research-intensive London university with global reach means that we don’t always share the local growth and regeneration priorities of larger, regional universities, which may have closer strategic links with local organisations. Our commitment to how we define our “local” area results in striking contributions to cultural and creative industries, skills and learning, economic growth, and social inclusion across communities.
London and the UK
Our outreach and student engagement activity, underpinned by our Access and Participation Plan, drives our contribution to students’ access and success. We are committed to ensuring fair participation in higher education, and that the diversity of our student body reflects the demographics of our London borough. We work with Universities UK to address the national BAME attainment gap.
Our Careers service aims to equip communities with skilled and driven graduates, and fosters and enhances interaction with different communities by supporting students and staff to volunteer. Our high-quality portfolio of learning opportunities for the local community means we can foster lifelong and universal education and success.
SOAS aims to be a local beacon of justice, with initiatives such as our Human Rights Clinic offering support for migrants and detainees. We also work with neighbouring universities as part of our Climate Action Plan.
Asia, Africa, and the Middle East
SOAS’ Research Strategy states that “the world needs SOAS more than ever before”. Our research applies a global lens to critical issues and creates new intellectual and strategic partnerships, and 75% of our total research award volume focuses on Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Countries. Our Centres and Institutes bring together regional- and discipline-specialists both in the UK and in the regions. Our support for international development activity in low- to middle-income countries, funded by schemes including the Global Challenges Research Fund, is often carried out in conjunction with other colleges of the University of London via consortia such as the London International Development Centre (LIDC) and the Bloomsbury SET.
Aspect 2: Activity
SOAS contributes to local growth and regeneration by leading initiatives in learning, outreach and skills development, global development and engagement, investing in arts, heritage and cultural engagement, and supporting local enterprise. Our close links and deep understanding of our local and global communities enable us to deliver activities that meet their needs.
Learning and Outreach across London and the UK
Through our Widening Participation (WP) activity, we work with partner schools, Linking London, Aimhigher London South, and adult learning centres to engage people from marginalised backgrounds or socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods, supporting access to university and providing opportunities to learn about the languages and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
We contribute to local skills development and social inclusion through delivering initiatives which have a profound and enduring impact on the ability of minority groups to control their lives and transform agendas. Our unique perspective enables us to address complex topics, such as radicalisation, religious intolerance and discrimination, helping to foster social cohesion and harmony. Examples of this activity include:
partnering with London local authorities and educational organisations to provide leaders from disadvantaged and/or multi-ethnic communities with the skills to develop their careers and gain positions of influence;
working to break down barriers through our Universities and Muslim Seminaries Project;
partnering with the Aziz Foundation, which supports British Muslims to attend university
welcoming healthcare practitioners from Great Ormond Street Hospital for a bespoke cultural awareness programme on ‘Caring for Patients from the Arabian Gulf’.
Our Language Centre offers accredited diplomas and bespoke language training (each year running over 400 courses in approximately 32 languages from our key regions, with over 4000 students on average) for a diverse range of organisations and individuals. The majority of our language students are professionals, or those wanting to learn because of a personal connection. Since going online in March 2020, our student base has become more international, expanding to the USA, Canada and extensively throughout Europe.
In addition, we offer an extensive selection of short courses and professional development opportunities across music, art, yoga, law and finance and management.
Global Development and Engagement
Recent work SOAS has undertaken to meet the needs of stakeholders in our regional communities includes:
partnering with the African Leadership University (ALU) in Rwanda, including through the SOAS-ALU Summer School;
delivering staff training for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development (DFID), foreign embassies, and global charities like UNICEF;
welcoming two separate groups of civil servant delegates: members of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Economics Relations Division of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Finance with bespoke courses around public sector management and reform;
partnering with MountCrest University College in Ghana on a programme to foster socio-economic development;
hosting a workshop with local governments on Progressive Procurement as a post-Covid19 recovery strategy;
providing research-driven guidance on democratic and transparent governance, with fieldwork undertaken in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Nigeria, through the DFID-funded Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium (ACE);
facilitating citizens of countries including Myanmar and Ethiopia in democratic engagement, via the Global Research Network on Parliaments and People.
As well as prominent UK-based alumni who regularly engage with us, such as journalist Zeinab Badawi, David Lammy MP (both of whom spoke at our Black History month events) and the Mayor of Haringey, Adam Jogee, our global community spans over 200 countries and territories. Our local ambassadors organise events and networks in their respective countries, including a virtual book club for alumni in Nairobi.
Over 8000 alumni have opted in to receive our event invites and quarterly newsletter, and our alumni social media pages have high numbers of followers. Over 300 of our India-based alumni are regularly active on social media, providing each other with professional support and networking opportunities. As well as helping fund our SOAS Sanctuary Scholarships for displaced students, many alumni and similar stakeholders support SOAS via philanthropic means through our Advancement activity.
Arts, Heritage and Cultural Engagement
With its National Research Library status, SOAS’ extensive Library and Special Collections facility is at the forefront of digitising and translating unique material, as part of its overall strategy to provide high quality, highly discoverable information resources and services. We have gained significant investment to this end, including to digitise the works of a Yiddish poet, Abraham Nahum Stencl, working with East London archives.
We also support the enrichment of local libraries; MULOSIGE, a project exploring multilingualism, works with N4 library in Islington to expand their book collection in languages chosen by the community, such as Arabic.
An independent media hub, SOAS Radio produces music and podcasts that focus on Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It has acted as a consultant of Communication for Development projects, contributing to the establishment of Biso na Biso, a community radio station for the semi-nomadic Indigenous People in the North-East Republic of Congo, and JT Live Radio, Ghana.
SOAS’ meeting, conference and exhibition venues drive income for the institution and provide a way for us to open our campus and facilities and welcome in local and global communities.
SOAS provides business development support through our Student Enterprise function, much of which is sponsored by Santander. This includes supporting more than 20 alumni working in the UK through the government’s start-up visa programme and providing funding for businesses (seed funding and awards), workshops and mentoring.
SOAS values mutually beneficial relationships with local enterprises including Chouette Films and PositiveNegatives.
Aspect 3: Results
Feedback and analysis show us that we’re successfully engaging with our target communities, both at home and abroad:
We seek feedback from all Language Centre Clients. Merlin Squire, CEO of Squire and Partners, said he would “highly recommend” the Chinese language course he undertook, particularly because “the teachers originated from different locations (Xian, Beijing, Taiwan) so that their different accents provided variety and fresh challenge in each session.”
SOAS undertakes a thorough needs analysis before delivering its bespoke training. This establishes the needs of the community/trainee/client and ensures that we are able to prepare programmes in light of client needs as well as individuals' existing knowledge and specific requirements. Feedback is sought and responded to in multiple ways: via in-class monitoring, end-of-programme evaluation forms, and debriefs with clients. We evaluate success by noting repeat bookings, positive feedback from delegates, and our ability to win competitive bids to deliver training programmes.
For our online library catalogue, there have been over 400,000 “sessions”. The countries with most visits are the UK, US, Italy, Germany and India, with visitors from over 200 countries and territories, as far as Suriname and Palau. Across our digital archives, there have been over 90,000 sessions across our 757,000 digitised images, and the countries with most visits are the UK, Philippines, US, India and Somalia.
Local Research Impact
Our work on migration in the Horn of Africa led to EU policy change, and helped directly improve the life chances of migrant populations in the region, and their families in the UK. The Federal Government of Somalia adopted 12 of the research’s recommendations in its National Policy on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (2019).
Our ACE team worked directly with frontline healthcare workers in Nigeria to design research, and consequently policy. This community-level co-production in health systems research ensures buy-in of a section of workers important for service delivery.
For ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, SOAS currently ranks equal 5th in the world and 1st in the UK, based on work such as ACE, and our strong relationships with the UN.
We ranked equal 32nd globally (2nd in the UK) for ‘Climate Action’, 36th for ‘No Poverty’ and 40th for ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’, demonstrating our commitment to equality and sustainability in global communities, building on our status as the first London university to divest from fossil fuels through initiatives like Solar SOAS.
Global Partnership Outcomes
Our Transnational Education (TNE) and partnership activities raise SOAS’ profile globally, and contribute to pedagogical development and mutually beneficial outcomes for students and academics. We now have 15 partnerships, including contracts with excellent universities and sponsorship bodies. Our Global Engagement activity enriches the student experience, providing opportunities to study at SOAS through activities such as Dual Masters awards and Articulations.
Global, Local Graduates
The top three sectors that SOAS graduates go into are Education, Public Administration and Defence, and Social Work-related activities, strongly reflecting SOAS’ values. Our graduates bring positive impact to communities across the world; many stay in London, but of the top ten cities to which students move for employment or further study, six are in Asia and Africa.
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Public & Community Engagement
Summary of approach
SOAS research makes a difference to how we see the world and how we live in it. Through innovative work that engages critically with mainstream discourses and promotes a diversity of perspectives, we aim to shape scholarship across the arts, humanities and social sciences, and promote social benefit worldwide. We work with partners across the world to create, promote and share knowledge. Our community of students, alumni and staff are evidence of the interconnectedness of the world. We understand and engage with the world and the regions in which we specialise, promoting a sense of global citizenship and mutual understanding.
Aspect 1: Strategy
As the world’s leading institution for research on Asia, Africa and the Middle East, our mission is to make a positive difference in an unequal world. We shape scholarship across the arts, humanities and social sciences to promote justice, peace and wellbeing across the globe.
It is fundamental to achieving these objectives that stakeholders and the public engage with our research; with our unique combination of disciplinary expertise and regional focus, our central London campus, and world-class facilities like our Brunei Gallery and National Research Library, we aim to be a beacon of public and community engagement (PCE) on global issues.
SOAS doesn’t have a stand-alone Public or Community Engagement strategy; however, such activities are central to the SOAS Vision and Strategy, in which strengthening our relationships with a range of organisations and movements is key to impacting the communities with which we engage. Our Higher Education Innovation Funding strategy outlines our commitment to PCE, especially in addressing complex topics such as radicalisation. Our Research Strategy commits us, by 2025, to expanding our PE activities (which include the co-design, collaboration and co-production of research with diverse stakeholders, partners and organisations), building and consolidating relationships with communities across London and beyond. Our Impact Strategy recognises that to achieve change, we must embed public engagement in our research, enabling us to take our expertise further afield, to inform and inspire public debate and the research agenda.
Our strategies have been created through continuous consultation with stakeholders. The delivery of PE is a senior management priority, formally residing with our Pro-Director for Research and Enterprise, who shares strategic responsibility with our Associate Director of Research (Impact and Engagement) and our departmental Research and REF Coordinators. We strategically invest in a range of functions and infrastructure, including our Library and Galleries, Research and Enterprise, Global Engagement, Regional Centres and Institutes, Events, and Communications.
Aspect 2: Support
SOAS recently brought Library, Learning, Research and Enterprise Services (LLRE) together under one directorate, consolidating expertise and infrastructure to support each element of the research lifecycle. 4
Senior academic support includes a 0.5 FTE Associate Director of Research (Impact and Engagement) and an Impact and Engagement Convenor (0.2 FTE). SOAS is signed up to the NCCPE Manifesto and is a member of the Universities Policy Engagement Network and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Our Communications office secures widespread media coverage, works with researchers ahead of releases, and engages with target outlets, using press release distribution and media monitoring software for planning and analysis. A partnership with The Conversation means dedicated support for academics to publish on this website, reaching wider audiences.
Other elements of support and investment in PCE include:
Guidance and Learning
There is significant expertise and support for public engagement and impact within the LLRE. We facilitate peer-to-peer learning and mentoring between academics, drawing on our collective experience. Resources available to staff include an online impact ‘platform’ which facilitates the drafting of impact narratives and provides secure storage for the supporting evidence for REF Impact Case Studies. We offer extensive training and development on public engagement, research impact, and engagement with policymakers and the media. Specialist staff work with academics on bids and support the generation and monitoring of impact.
Internal Funding Mechanisms
We provide competitive funding for impact and PCE activities through a range of internal schemes. These support staff to develop mutually beneficial collaborations with external partners in gathering evidence of impact, and in delivering the benefits of our research to beneficiaries in the UK and around the world (particularly in our focus regions). We also provide targeted funding to support the development of our Impact Case Studies. SOAS’ Decolonising SOAS Public Engagement and Outreach Fund provides grass-roots and under-resourced groups with project funding, institutional support and a collaborative platform.
Recognition and Reward
The value of impact in academic careers is recognised via our Academic Performance Framework, where a key criterion is leadership of research that “has had an outstanding and demonstrable impact on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. In our Academic Promotion Procedure, “Evidence of outstanding research impact” and “Knowledge Transfer and Enterprise activity…defined as a contribution to society and the economy through the application of knowledge to the benefit of the broader community” are explicit criteria.
Events and networking
Our Events team aims to deliver memorable experiences to stakeholders, raise our profile, and increase audience engagement. We provide a toolkit to help colleagues run and evaluate successful events through high-standard planning and logistics. Our Centres and Institutes are also vital in bringing people together to share research and practice, delivering hundreds of events (in 2018-19, the Centres and Institutes welcomed more than 25,000 people to free events including performances, exhibitions, workshops, and film screenings), disseminating research in academic and stakeholder communities, and nurturing partnerships.
Aspect 3: Activity
Our PCE emerges from our connections to our focus regions and diaspora communities, and our desire to make positive change. For example:
Our “Applying a Decolonial Lens to Research Structures, Norms and Practices in Higher Education Institutions” (2019) event, along with our Virtual Festival of Ideas, fostered the discussion of research through a decolonial lens. These feed into our wider strategy of building equal partnerships and impact with communities, engaging other UK and international universities, and stakeholders from outside higher education.
As well as recently launching its own blog, our China Institute’s debate series facilitates discussion on complex and controversial issues, demonstrating our commitment to platforming academic freedom and nuanced perspectives. Our most recent debate had 300 attendees, nearly a third of these from outside SOAS, with the video gathering thousands of views.
Our Brunei Gallery hosts various exhibitions, often in partnership with our Library and Special Collections. We bring visitors insight into global cultures based on collaborative research and understanding, including our recent exploration of roads in South Asia and Namibian music history.
SOAS’ Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy took its research on women and the UN across the world. Our findings are now mandatory training for UN staff, amplifying the contributions of the Global South across multinational decision-making organisations.
Re/Presenting Islam on Campus responded to challenges around discrimination and freedom of expression, demonstrating the importance of deepening understanding in culturally diverse settings.
Aspect 4: Results and learning
With PCE delivery spread across the institution and guided by both strategic imperatives and individual passions, we don’t find it practicable to approach all evaluation uniformly. However, we document learning and success; below are examples across some of our flagship PCE activities:
We help our researchers to map potential stakeholders who might directly benefit or who can draw on our research to influence change, and how best to engage with them. We gather and interpret impact-related intelligence concerning our REF 2021 submission, support the collection of evidence (and its enhancement), and coordinate our Impact Case Studies.
Our Decolonising Research event (see Aspect 3) welcomed nearly 100 attendees, and brought together thirteen speakers from across the world. It was live-streamed, live-Tweeted, and secured positive media coverage.
There have been over 400,000 sessions across our online library catalogue, with the most visits from the UK, US, Italy, Germany and India. Visitors come from over 200 countries and territories, as far as Surname and Palau. Across our digital archives, there have been over 90,000 sessions across our 757,000 digitised images, with most visits currently from UK, the Philippines, US, India and Somalia. A particularly popular destination for our readers from the Philippines was our Readings in Philippine history resource. This analysis shows us the extent to which our Library’s material has successfully reached communities beyond the UK, and beyond the English language.
Through 2018/19, the Gallery saw around 60,000 visitors to its exhibitions and accompanying events, hosting the Migration Museum’s annual lecture, led this year by public historian David Olusoga. Almost 300 attended the lecture - “The Perils of Our Insular Illusion” – which looked at the global aspects of British history and culture, bringing together local history and connections with wider postcolonial discourse and global understanding.
Connecting with Policymakers
At a parliamentary hearing into the UK’s role in Africa, our Vice Chancellor spoke at length on Decolonisation, genuinely influencing key decision-makers. We have provided expert advice to the Home Office on Prevent, and successfully lobbied around the Coronavirus Act, with the Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords calling our policy briefings "invaluable". Considering the difficulty of engaging policymakers, this demonstrates to us the significance of consistent, targeted efforts. In January 2020, SOAS hosted a visit by the President of Malawi, Professor Peter Mutharika, an enriching event for students and local attendees and a significant act of diplomacy between the UK and the Republic of Malawi, something rare among universities of SOAS’ size.
Aspect 5: Acting on results
Working with stakeholders on research impact
We always aim to improve how the communities involved with our projects can feed back on the delivery of our promises, encouraging our Principal Investigators (PIs) to co-sign off on objectives with them, check-in with them via interim progress reports, and involve them in the evaluation process.
Our institutional practice to communicate and act on our results includes:
Sharing results and lessons via departmental meetings
Research Impact teams working with PIs to gather evidence of their impact (for the REF) and how that has driven learning within the project. The PIs of the ERC-funded MULOSIGE project, for example, organised participatory feedback with the local Islington community, adjusting plans going forward and putting together a toolkit so others can replicate the project. The toolkit is available through many channels including at MULOSIGE’s public engagement event.
Resulting from our ongoing consultation, we will establish an annual “review and reflect” season, timed with the PI’s evaluation, which will include sharing our learning and progress among PIs at SOAS, and across the communities with which we’ve engaged. This will also mean using departmental-level and project-level review and reflection as a springboard to take this institution-wide.
Following the Decolonising Research event, a group email (now with hundreds of subscribers) has continued the conversation, connecting funders and researchers to pursue solutions to the challenges identified. Our Research Office held an all-directorate meeting to discuss lessons from the event, and the potential approaches to providing more reflexive research development support, working to develop an online training course that explores various tensions between a post-colonial and ethical research approach, and the necessity of compliance with UK/EU-based research governance standards.
As part of our wider Decolonising Research Initiative, we conducted an internal review (led by SOAS’ GCRF officer and undergoing ethical review under the direction of the SOAS Ethics and Governance Officer) with staff and overseas partners. Its purpose was to investigate systematic barriers faced by in-house and in-partner countries around finance, contracts and compliance in international collaborative research, to understand contemporary approaches to partnerships-building, and to identify improvements and good practices. Two reports presented the key findings: one on research development practices, primarily informed by discussion with professional services staff; and one on strategies of partnerships-building, primarily informed by discussions with PIs and project staff. Our policy briefing outlined the most pertinent findings (combined with key lessons from the Decolonising Research Initiative and the SOAS-Oxford Research for Development webinar series) to communicate to funders, other HEIs and researchers, in order to improve sector practices. Insights gained will inform SOAS practices going forward.
Always committed to communicating our research across a range of audiences, we share our work across various channels, such as our Research Centre Newsletters, and via the media. Recent examples of media engagement that raised our research profile include:
Our Drugs & (dis)order: "Voice of the Borderlands" report featured in The Conversation and Vice UK, achieved through collaboration with the project researchers.
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