A-Z of Universities: School of Oriental and African Studies

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Age: 82

Address: off Russell Square in Bloomsbury, part of the central complex of London University.

Ambience: Housed in a functional brick block and an additional Seventies building containing an impressive five-storey library open six days a week. Quality of life has improved since 1995 with the opening of the vast Brunei Gallery - a gift from the Sultan of Brunei consisting of an art gallery, lecturing and teaching rooms, offices and a cafe. That brought with it a pedestrian precinct, complete with trees and wooden benches. College is small, so you get to know people. And it's situated in the most happening bit of London University right by ULU (University of London Union) where you can always escape the cosiness for a splash in the swimming- pool. Female-dominated, 60:40.

Vital statistics: Part of London University, it's a leftover from the Empire, founded in 1916 to train colonial administrators. Offers a unique mix of - you guessed - Asian and African studies. The only place where you can study non-Eurocentric politics, law and economics. Student population comes from 90 different countries. (Has 3,000 students altogether.) Many postgraduates, many over 21. Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence use it for crash courses in languages and politics and businesspeople come to bone up on Japan.

Added value: You can combine subjects such as history, economics, history of art and music with an Asian or African language, eg economics with Japanese, or history of art with Persian.

Easy to get into? A-level grades required range from BBB to BB or BCC.

Glittering alumni: Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans; Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of opposition to military junta in Burma; Freya Stark, explorer and writer; Michael Jay, French Ambassador; Paul Robeson, singer; Jomo Kenyatta, ex-president of Kenya; Professor Fred Halliday, Middle East boffin at the LSE; the late Enoch Powell MP; Zeinab Badawi, newsreader; Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand.

Transport links: Great for Tubes (Russell Square and Goodge Street) and Euston Station - and you can walk virtually anywhere because it's so central.

Who's the boss? Ex-mandarin Sir Tim Lankester, formerly perm. sec. at the Department for Education and Employment, who set about expanding but has settled for restructuring.

Teaching: 24 out of 24 for history and art; 23 for East and South Asian studies; 22 for Middle Eastern and African studies; 20 for linguistics.

Research: Came 22nd out of 101 in the research assessment exercise. Achieved tip-top 5* in history, music and religious studies and a 5 in art and archaeology, anthropology and linguistics.

Financial health: In the black.

Night-life: SOAS entertainments have gone down the tubes because the governing body replaced the assembly with a lecture theatre, offices and a large classroom. In the last year students have enjoyed one dub roots reggae band which played twice. Authentically scruffy bar shuts 8.30pm. What the heck - London's out there.

Cheap to live in? No. This is London. Costs pounds 75 a week for a self-catered room in brand-new Dinwiddy House, the SOAS hall of residence in Pentonville Road (includes your own phone and computer point).

Buzz-word: guanxi (Mandarin for "networking").

Next week: South Bank.

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