SOAS since the sixties

Material Information

SOAS since the sixties
Arnold, David, 1946- ( Author, Primary )
Shackle, C. ( Author, Primary )


Subjects / Keywords:
University of London. School of Oriental and African Studies ( LCNAF )
SOAS University of London
Temporal Coverage:
19690101 - 20031231
Spatial Coverage:
Europe -- United Kingdom -- England -- Greater London -- London -- Camden -- Bloomsbury
51.52205 x -0.129


General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Arnold, David, 1946- : URI
General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Shackle, C. : URI

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SOAS University of London
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SOAS University of London
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Full Text

SOAS Since the Sixties
edited by
David Arnold and Christopher Shackle

Published by the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H OXG
© School of Oriental and African Studies, 2003
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 7286 0353 5
Designed by Hawksmere Printed in Great Britain by Bookcraft

This idea of this volume arose around the turn of the millennium with the realization
that the School was rapidly approaching its centenary in 2017 without any serious
thought having been given to the updating of its history beyond Sir Cyril Philips’s
brief account which had been published for its fiftieth anniversary in 1967. It was
originally intended to commission a comprehensive institutional history from a
single author. When this plan fell through, it was decided to go for the present format
of an edited volume incorporating individually authored chapters. The notes on
contributors at the end of the book indicate their often remarkable length of service
throughout the period 1967-2002 which is covered. As is suggested by the title,
SOAS Since the Sixties is therefore in a real sense the first-hand record of a generation
of academics who together have seen the School through a period of great change.
One day, perhaps, it may play its part as a source for that fuller history which the
centenary of SOAS will deserve. In the meantime it is hoped that our collective
account will entertain as well as instruct all those interested in the development
of one of the world’s most remarkable and distinctive university institutions.
A collective undertaking of this kind has relied for its successful completion upon
the good will and helpfulness of a number of colleagues. While themselves assuming
due responsibility for the final shape of the volume, the editors wish to thank all
contributors for their willing cooperation. We are particularly grateful to Frank
Dabell for his encouragement of the project, to Professor Tony Allan for his generous
help in drawing up the second section of our Introduction which is based on his
earlier draft, to Helen Cordell and to all those who have advised or commented
on earlier drafts of individual chapters. We also wish to express our thanks to Martin
Daly for his invaluable assistance with the editorial process and to Michael Sherry
for his enthusiastic oversight of the volume’s production.
David Arnold
Christopher Shackle

Introduction: SOAS at the crossroads 1
David Arnold and Christopher Shackle
A bumpy ride 1
Redesigning SOAS: The centres approach 7
Managing growth 12
The dilemmas of SOAS 14
Celebrating independence 18
A history of SOAS, 1917-67 21
Sir Cyril Philips
Beginnings 21
Growing pains, 1917-39 22
The war years, 1939-46 30
Expansion and recovery, 1946-57 34
The 1960s: Growth and transformation 38
Directors and directions 45
Richard Rathbone
The Directors’ role 45
The Philips era 46
The Cowan years 49
The McWilliam period 54
Recent years 60
Language studies: A play in three acts 65
Christopher Shackle
Prologue 65
Act I: Coverage and contentment 67
Act II: Crises and contractions 72
Act III: Reconstruction and revival 79

The arts and humanities: Between history and ethnography 87
J. D. Y. Peel
Methods of enquiry 87
History 88
Anthropology and Sociology 94
Art and Archaeology 98
Study of Religions 101
Music 105
Conclusion 107
The social sciences: Structural change
and its contradictions 109
Terence J. Byres
The social sciences at SOAS 109
The Hayter years, 1959-67 111
Hard times and soldiering through, 1967-88 117
Success and failure in the social sciences, 1988-2002 122
Conclusion 128
The SOAS Library and archives 129
Keith Webster and Rosemary Seton
The heart of the School 129
The growth of the Library 130
Collections and staffing 134
The archives 138
The SOAS estate 147
Frank Dabell
Pressures and constraints 147
The Brunei Gallery 149
The SOAS student residences 152
Towards a second campus 157
Further campus developments 161
'And what should they know of SOAS,
who only SOAS know?’ 165
Hugh Baker
Appendices 181
Notes on contributors 181
Principal office holders 1967-2002 183

List of illustrations
Colour illustrations
SECTION 1 (following p58)
SOAS from Senate House I
Sir Cyril Philips examining plans for the new building II
Students relaxing outside the College Building III
Members of the Governing Body, June 2002 IV-V
The Dalai Lama at SOAS with Sir Michael McWilliam VI
The President of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Kim Dae-jung,
and his wife, with Professor Martina Deuchler, at SOAS in 1998 VI
The opening of the Vernon Square campus in October 2001:
the Director and Principal, Professor Colin Bundy, with HRH Princess Anne,
the Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of London, Councillor Joe Trotter,
Mayor of Islington, and the Visitor, Lord Howe of Aberavon VII
HRH the Emir of Katsina in the Library in 1996 VII
Outside the College Building VIII
SECTION 2 (following pl22)
The reading room of the Library IX
The Library at Finsbury Circus in the 1930s X
The new entrance to the Library, 2003 XI
The Byte2e@t cafe at Vernon Square XI
On the steps of the Brunei Gallery XII
An exhibition of African art at the Brunei Gallery XIII
The Japanese garden at the Brunei Gallery XIII
The cup-winning SOAS women’s football team, 1998 XIV
A music class at SOAS with David Hughes XV
SOAS students at work XV
The Tamil sage Tiruvalluvar XVI
Illustrations in text
Undergraduate student numbers 1967-2002 4
Postgraduate student numbers 1967-2002 5
The reading room at Finsbury Circus 29
Sir Tim Lankester 62
A Bactrian letter 82
Bronze objects from Ghubayra 99
A gamelan performance 106
Journal of Peasant Studies cover design 119
‘Missionary perils’ 139
The new archives store 144
Lower ground floor plan of the Russell Square Campus 150
Architect’s drawing of the East Block 155
Ground floor plan of the Vernon Square building 160
‘Worshipping his ancestral tablets, after taking his degree’ 169

Introduction: SOAS at the crossroads
David Arnold and Christopher Shackle
A bumpy ride
Nearly four decades have elapsed since Professor C. H. Philips, the then Director
of the School of Oriental and African Studies, wrote his brief history of the School’s
first fifty years. Since the mid-1960s SOAS has undergone an immense
transformation, as great as any that Philips himself effected and recorded. That
transformation has been impelled by many factors - by the legacy of Philips’s own
vision of a dynamic and rejuvenated SOAS, by seismic shifts in government policy
towards university organization, accountability and funding, by dramatic increases
in student numbers and the physical expansion of the School, by the decline in
the authority of the University of London and the growing autonomy of its colleges,
by the evolving nature of our academic disciplines and the shifting institutional
balance between them. Many of these changes have been imposed upon the School,
in common with other higher education institutions in Britain, but they have affected
it in distinct ways that are themselves worthy of record. Simply to have survived
from the depleted position in which the School found itself in the early 1980s deserves
commemoration. To have done so with vigour, imagination and a renewed vision
of SOAS’s distinctive place among UK universities and colleges and in the wider
world of global academe calls for a real celebration.
At a time when the School is witnessing a renewed period of major change -
signalled by the opening of the Vernon Square campus in 2001 and the move to
a Faculty structure in 2002 - the opening years of the twenty-first century seem
an appropriate and opportune moment to reflect on how the School has changed
and on the upheavals it has endured since the mid-1960s. It is also a time when
many of those who witnessed and contributed to the transformation of the last
forty years have recently left the School or are about to retire from its service. As
well as being an institutional record, this volume is thus something of a collective

personal memoir of those years. It is hoped that this survey of SOAS Since the
Sixties will also serve as an introductory guide to those who have only lately come
to know the School or who, approaching it for the first time as outsiders, want
to know more about why and how SOAS has come to be the kind of place that
it now is.
The modern shape of the School was first decisively defined by Sir Cyril Philips,
its Director from 1957 to 1976. His account of the history of SOAS up to 1967,
summarized by David Arnold in the opening chapter of this volume, shows how
SOAS passed through several crises of identity and growth in its first fifty years.
The sheer breadth of Philips’s vision for the School remains remarkable, embracing
as it did a strategic academic expansion into social sciences and into area studies,
the foundation of an overdue growth in student numbers, the careful alignment
of SOAS with then generous policies of university funding, the targeted solicitation
of external benefactions, and the construction of the major building which houses
the School’s unique Library at its core and which is now rightly named the Philips
The following chapter by Richard Rathbone carries down to the present the story
of the School’s Directors, Secretaries and other senior office holders whose names
are listed at the end the book. Rathbone’s chapter too bears witness to Philips’s
achievements, before showing how the School has continued to endure some
extremely difficult times, not least in the drastic staff cuts made during the early
1980s when Professor Jeremy Cowan was Director. The loss to the School in terms
of experienced academic staff and, no less, of morale and sense of purpose was
considerable. In 1967, when SOAS was still the beneficiary of the combined largess
of the 1946 Scarbrough Report and the 1961 Hayter Report (into which Philips
himself had had a notable input), the number of academic staff had stood at 227.
This had fallen to 165 twenty years later, and it was only with the 1986 Parker
Report that a gradual recovery began. This recovery was in part conducted according
to the strategic blueprint set out in what remains the most comprehensive internal
review the School has ever undertaken, the 1982 Report of the Working Party on
Longer-term Development which was established by Cowan with Malcolm Yapp
as Chair. But, despite such setbacks and adversities as those experienced in the
early 1980s, SOAS did more than survive, and in the 1990s under the enterprising
Directorship of Michael McWilliam and with the progressive devolution by the
University of London of most of its powers to its constituent colleges it entered
into a new phase of increasingly independent growth and vitality.

The story of the successful development during the period from 1967 to 2002 of
the School’s very varied academic portfolio in the face of diverse and often difficult
challenges is told from three different perspectives in the three chapters by
Christopher Shackle, J. D. Y. Peel and Terence J. Byres. Respectively covering the
language and culture departments, the arts and humanities and the social sciences,
and inevitably giving much attention to the minute measuring of departmental
staff numbers which is so engrained in the dons’ eye view of the world, these parallel
chapters show how SOAS has been able to shift an ever greater allocation of
resources to the social sciences in keeping with changing student demands without
sacrificing the core of its internationally recognized strengths in the languages of
Asia and Africa.
For an institution of its size and resources, the School can fairly be said to have
maintained a formidable battery of academic activities and initiatives. And yet
it cannot be denied that SOAS continues to be beset by a number of seemingly
intractable problems. Some of these are generic to higher education in Britain
in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; but others are specific to
SOAS as (despite its recent growth) a relatively small academic institution which
has a highly distinctive specialized mission for Asian and African studies.
One manifestation of the particular character of SOAS is the proportion of its
resources which has always been needed to maintain the exceptional institutional
prominence of its Library, which is itself so important a part of the Philips legacy.
As Keith Webster and Rosemary Seton show in their chapter, the SOAS Library
has long since established its importance as a national and international academic
resource, and it has also been the basis for several successful funding initiatives
in recent years. It is an occasional cause for rueful pride that the SOAS Library
has sometimes been better known and more fully utilized by outsiders than have
the teaching and research activities of the School itself. And yet, by the very nature
of its specialization, the Library, including its increasingly large collection of archives,
has been an expensive asset for the School to maintain at the same time as increased
student numbers make ever greater demands for the support of the Library’s
teaching collections.
The difficulty of reconciling expansion in terms both of student numbers and of
academic research agendas with a central London location, where new space is
physically and financially hard to come by, is detailed in Frank Dabell’s chapter
on the School’s estate. But it has been symptomatic of how SOAS has emerged

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positively and purposefully from the low point of the early 1980s that it has managed
to expand from its original building designed in the 1930s and the Library building
added to it in the 1970s to develop into something more akin to a campus university.
The importance of this physical growth in the School’s estate is highlighted by
Richard Rathbone in his assessment of the role of the School’s recent Directors
and Secretaries, as well as by Frank Dabell, whose own contribution to these
developments has been quite crucial. The building of the Brunei Gallery, the creation
of two new halls of residence and the acquisition of the Vernon Square building
to allow for the growth in both teaching and administrative needs has brought
about the most evident and physically obvious transformation in the School’s recent
history. This physical expansion is set to continue with the current development
of the East Block and the long overdue internal refurbishment of the main entrance
to match the increasingly leafy Thornhaugh Street outside which provides the
School with such welcome outdoor social space.
The greatest of the main problems which SOAS has had to face has undoubtedly
been that of size. As anyone who has known it will be aware, even over the past
decade or two the School has grown enormously. Looking back on Sir Cyril Philips’s
account of the first fifty years of the School, one cannot but be astonished by the
tiny number of degree students taught at SOAS even as late as the early 1960s.
Undergraduate numbers have since then increased by leaps and bounds, especially
since the mid-1990s (see the accompanying tables on pp.4-5); so have the number
of Masters students, stimulated initially by the creation of Area Studies MAs in
the 1960s, but more recently through a diverse array of attractive disciplinary
programmes in such fields as Economics and Development Studies. In 2000-01,
the total number of students at SOAS rose above 3,000 for the first time.
Remarkably (and the figure itself suggests something of the distinctive nature of
SOAS), of this total nearly 50 per cent were postgraduate students: in 2000-01 SOAS
had 1,515 undergraduates, 1,316 postgraduates, plus 441 other students registered
for special programmes and diplomas. A further 1,302 postgraduates were
registered as studying through part-time distance education, itself a significant
development of recent years and one that augurs well for the future. Despite the
difficulties that resulted for the School from the Government-imposed increase
in overseas student fees in the late 1970s, SOAS has continued to attract significant
numbers of students from outside the UK and particularly from outside the
European Union: in 2000-01 29 per cent of undergraduate and postgraduate students
were from outside the EU, particularly from Asian countries.

It is striking, however, that despite the tenfold increase in student numbers over
the past forty years, academic staff numbers at SOAS today do not greatly exceed
those of the seemingly halcyon Hayter years: in 2002-03 the School had an academic
staff of 247 (as against 2Y1 in 1967) and there is little likelihood of this increasing
significantly in the coming years. To no small extent, it has only been possible for
the School to continue to provide for expanding numbers of students, and the
exacting demands of government-driven accountability which at times threaten
almost to overwhelm with administrative tasks a relatively small institution like
SOAS, by augmenting the complement of non-academic staff not only in the
Registry, but also in the Estates, Finance, Human Resources, Information
Technology, Marketing and Research departments and, since the summer of 2002,
in the new Faculty offices. Though this inevitably gives rise to tensions of its own,
especially among those academics who feel that all possible funding should be
directed to serve teaching and research needs, in the twenty-first century the
importance of administrative and support staff to the viability and efficiency of
higher education institutions has grown far beyond anything that could have been
envisaged in the first fifty years of the School.
The changing experiences of SOAS students as their numbers have grown over
the decades, and the growth and professionalization of the administration which
provides the essential underpinning which supports all the activities of an
increasingly complex institution, are not given the explicit attention which each
deserves in this volume. But some of the continuities which have helped to
characterize SOAS and to hold it together as a place with the most extraordinary
ability to capture the imagination and the loyalty of so many who have come into
contact with it are set out in the personal memoir by Hugh Baker with which the
book ends. Himself first a student at the School in the 1950s, then a long serving
member of the academic staff throughout the period covered by this book before
retiring as an administrator, few are as well qualified as Hugh to articulate the
spirit of SOAS.
Redesigning SOAS: The centres approach
Apart from issues of size, a further, and abiding, issue at SOAS, highlighted in several
of the following contributions, is how far the School should see itself as a congeries
of groupings based upon the geographical areas of study, traditionally divided at
SOAS between the five regions of East Asia, South East Asia, South Asia, the Middle

East, and Africa, or as adhering primarily to a teaching and research structure based
upon the academic disciplines which have become increasingly important in defining
national criteria for the organization and support of teaching and research.
So far as the disciplines within the School’s remit are concerned, several new
departments have come into being as part of the general process of expansion
and diversification that has characterized SOAS since the early 1960s. As
Professors Peel and Byres show in their chapters in this volume, the period since
the early 1960s has seen the creation and growth of new departments in both arts
and social sciences at SOAS, and there has been a more general shift in the School’s
orientation in terms of both staff and student numbers away from the language
and culture departments towards the social sciences and arts. Among the recent
additions to the muster-roll of SOAS departments have been Art and Archaeology
(1990), Study of Religions (1992), Development Studies (1995), Music (1998),
and, most recently of all, the Department of Financial and Management Studies
in 2002, while only Geography has ceased to be with the transfer of the SOAS
department to King’s College in 2001. The School can now boast having sixteen
departments compared to a modest eleven in 1968.
An important parallel development at SOAS since the early 1960s, and one not
otherwise recounted in these pages, has been the creation and growth alongside
academic departments of regional and ‘special purpose’ centres. The idea of regional
centres owed much to the stimulus of the Hayter Report of 1961, which
recommended the creation of area studies centres in British universities. A number
of successful bids for funding were made under this scheme, including Middle
Eastern studies at Oxford and Durham, South East Asian Studies at Hull, West
African Studies at Birmingham and South Asian Studies at Cambridge. At the
time SOAS did not feel the need to create area studies centres of its own, believing
that in its language and culture departments it already had an area studies profile.
However, Philips became increasing concerned that SOAS appeared to be losing
out on this important initiative and the funding associated with it. He alluded
to this in the School’s Annual Report for 1958-59 in recognizing the need to increase
departmental, but more especially interdisciplinary, research, and in his review
of the 1957-62 quinquennium he further spoke of the value of using Masters degrees
as a means of attracting to Asian and African studies students whose previous
work had been confined to Europe.

In his introduction to the 1961-62 Annual Report, Philips further regretted the
School’s failure to make provision for modern studies’ Finally, in the 1965-66 session
he announced his intention to set up area studies centres at SOAS, in part as a vehicle
for the kinds of interdisciplinary studies that Hayter funding had made possible
elsewhere and to allow for the development of area studies Masters programmes.
Philips feared that because area studies centres elsewhere had regional labels attached
to them, they were seen in many quarters as being the national centres for the study
of those areas, even though SOAS already had far larger provision for them than
anywhere else. He had hoped to establish a special relationship with those
centres, as part of a national division of labour, with SOAS providing the language
teaching, the postgraduate supervision and library support. But it soon became
apparent that competition, not co-operation, was to be the order of the day and
that SOAS was losing out in the battle for both recognition and funding.
As a result, between 1966 and 1968, five Area Centres came into being at SOAS
- for Africa, the Near and Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia and what was
then called the Far East. All members of academic staff were expected to belong
to one of these regional centres, which, crucially, were intended to complement,
but not to replace, the existing departmental structure. The first Centre Chairs
were chosen from among the more senior academic figures in the School - Roland
Oliver for Africa, Taki Vatikiotis for the Middle East, Adrian Mayer for South Asia,
Jeremy Cowan for South East Asia, and William Beasley for the Far East. Given
their stature in the School and international reputations, they were able to launch
the Centres with considerable flair and success. Seminars were begun, conferences
held, and internationally renowned speakers invited to speak at the School.
Identifying a second generation of leadership proved more difficult, however, and
indeed finding able and willing Centre Chairs (who are also likely to be in demand
as Heads and other departmental officers, such as admission tutors) has been over
the past forty years one of the continuing problems facing the Centres. The Chair
initially served a term of four years (later reduced to three) and each of the original
Centres has been served by ten or eleven Chairs since the mid-1960s, a heavy call
on the services of academic staff. Some departments seem to have been decidedly
cool towards the Area Centres and to have discouraged their members from
becoming Chairs. Others, notably History and Anthropology, have provided a high
proportion of Centre leadership. The performance of Centre Chairs has varied
enormously over the years: some have been less active and imaginative than others;
a hardworking few have managed to keep the profile of the Area Centres high not

only in terms of internal School activity but also in the minds of the wider academic
community and the general public. Many academics at the School continue to see
the Centres as having an indispensable role.
In the early years Centre Chairs were given a place on leading School committees,
including an expanded Heads of Departments Committee and the Research
Committee, and if this added to their responsibilities it also enhanced their status
within the School structure. However, the School was generally reluctant to commit
substantial resources to the Centres and with each financial crisis the resources
available to them were pared down: from having once had their own secretaries
and offices in the 1970s, most by the 1990s found themselves having to share with
other Centres. Despite the early optimism, SOAS has found it increasingly difficult
to manage both a Departmental and an Area Centre structure and the cumulative
pressures of Government teaching and research assessment exercises have further
favoured prioritizing departments over Centres.
One of the most important contributions made by the Area Centres was in Masters
teaching. In the 1960s the area studies approach was not regarded as a suitable
framework for undergraduate teaching, but was thought to be ideal for the training
of Masters students who already had a first-degree foundation in a specific
disciplinary field. The area studies Masters degrees were introduced in 1966-68 at
a time when existing Masters programmes attracted very few students. Between
the 1970s and 1990s they proved a remarkable success. In that period area studies
Masters programmes accounted for roughly 70 percent of all Masters students at
SOAS, passing 70 in 1975 and then, after a series of setbacks (due mainly to the
international situation), rising to over 150 in 1995-96. After 1989, however, it was
degrees in such discipline-based fields as Anthropology, Development Studies,
Economics and Law which began to make up the bulk of Masters enrolments, and
which lifted total numbers to over 560 in 1996-97. By that date the proportion of
area studies Masters students (which were no longer directly linked to the Area
Centres) had fallen to 18 percent of the total, although still numbering about one
hundred per year. In this respect, as in many others, SOAS, in order to survive and
to flourish, has had to be flexible and pragmatic.
A further difficulty with the initial Area Centres approach of the mid-1960s has
been one of subdivision. Having five regional Centres proved not to be enough.
The Far East (a term displaced by East Asia at SOAS in the 1980s) rapidly split
into two separate Centres - one for China, the other for Japan - and in June 1968

Stuart Schram created the Contemporary China Institute to bring academic vigour
to the study of modern China. The more recent growth of area specialisms and
related funding opportunities have since led to the creation of a separate centre
for Korean Studies, a field generously supported at SOAS by the Korea Foundation,
and in 2000 for Central Asia, following the award to the School of additional posts
concerned with this region. In place of the original five, there are thus currently
eight Area Centres at SOAS: the Centre of African Studies, the Centre of Middle
Eastern Studies, the Centre of Chinese Studies (now incorporating the Contemporary
China Institute), the Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, the
Centre of South Asian Studies, the Centre of South East Asian Studies, the Japan
Research Centre and the Centre of Korean Studies. There also exist at SOAS a number
of smaller, less formally recognized groupings, as for instance for Turkish Studies,
which have never been officially elevated to the status of Centres.
Moreover, the area studies concept, so fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s as a way
of combining interdisciplinary expertise on a wide geographical region, has lost
some of its impetus four decades later. Quite a number of SOAS academics today
do not have a strong commitment to any one of the established regions: some,
especially in the social sciences, have a far stronger disciplinary than regional focus;
a few work mainly on areas like Latin America that lie outside the old SOAS remit.
There has been a growth in more specific areas of interest, some of which cut across
the old Area Studies regions or which entail more specialized areas of study within
a given region. Some of these have become departments in their own right, while
others have been recognized as ‘special purposes centres’ with primary ties to
departments (and now Faculties) rather than to regional Centres. The list of these
newer centres is now a long one, but it includes such distinctive fields as Buddhist
Studies, Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, Gender and Religions, and Jewish Studies,
and in terms of seminar programmes, conferences, research, fundraising and
outreach to the wider community, these include some of the most active and
energetic groupings in the School, as well as allowing for more flexibility than the
Area Centres have tended to permit. In taking stock of this richly diverse growth
in its report to Academic Board of 1999, a working party recommended the
encouragement of these newer Centres while seeing a particular role for the Area
Centres in continuing to represent the important regional dimension of the School’s
external profile.

Managing growth
The growth in student numbers has been an essential part of the School’s finances
in recent years: in 2000-01 £15.2 million of the total income of £38.2 million came
from tuition fee income. But in the increasingly complex financial situation in
which universities now find themselves, SOAS has also had to look for other sources
of income to sustain even its core activities. The handouts from departments of
state, colonial governments and seemingly small sums of money gleaned from
the Universities Grants Commission, as described by Philips, look paltry by today’s
standards; and SOAS, in common with other London Schools and Colleges, no
longer receives the major part of its income through the Senate House of the
University of London. Grants from the universities’ current paymaster, the Higher
Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), for such areas of performance
as the periodic Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), accounted in 2000-01 for a
further £11 million of the School’s income. But, such are the rapid variations of
Government policy with which universities now have somehow to contend, that
the RAE as a major source of SOAS income is now seriously under threat.
Again, as is described in Christopher Shackle’s account of the language departments
at SOAS, the School has over the years been heavily dependent for what many
justly continue to regard as key areas of its activity on exceptional Government
provision, the so-called ‘special factor’ or ‘minority subjects’ funding. Following
on in the tradition of the Scarbrough and Hayter Reports, the School’s unique
contribution to teaching and research on the languages of Asia and Africa was
recognized by the Parker Report of 1986 and by its successors, the Raisman Report
of 1993 and the Minority Subjects Report in 2000. In addition, especially as the
Government contribution to university funding in Britain has proportionately
declined, the School has also been sustained by outside grants and by the individual
donations, some of them remarkably generous like the endowment of the Brunei
Gallery or the recent establishment of the Endangered Languages Programme by
the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund.
SOAS has also been sustained by the property sales described by Frank Dabell in
his chapter on the School’s estate, which have helped SOAS to meet an annual
expenditure now in excess of £30 million a year. But, as the experience of 2002-
03 has once again shown with its fresh talk of financial crisis, it remains a constant
struggle to maintain viability in an institution that lacks the kinds of ancient
endowments that help to support some leading universities in Britain and abroad,

and which is without the large science, technology and medicine departments
that often attract large research funding and that tend to enjoy a privileged place
in Government thinking. SOAS is certainly not alone in needing to devote an
increasing proportion of its resources and the time of its Director and other senior
administrative staff to fund-raising and related income-generating activities, at
the cost of other important tasks; but, given the School’s distinctive remit, this
has created exceptional difficulties of its own.
And yet, it is as well to remind ourselves that, for all this remarkable pattern of
recent growth, making SOAS a very different kind of a place from what it was in
the 1960s, as Hugh Baker shows from his personal recollection of the School over
several decades, it remains in current UK terms a relatively small institution. Its
student numbers are dwarfed by those of its near neighbours, most obviously
University College and Imperial College, and in terms of its annual turnover, its
research income and fundraising, it remains small compared to the UK’s academic
giants. Despite the ‘campus feel’ that SOAS has acquired with the Brunei building,
the residences and Vernon Square, the School is still short of space for teaching,
administration and research. It is certainly a justifiable cause for pride that SOAS,
while remaining true to its specialist mission, has steadily outgrown such
institutions as the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES),
founded as a sister institution within the University in 1916 but now wholly
incorporated into UCL, or smaller University of London bodies like the Institute
of Commonwealth Studies or the Institute of Latin American Studies, each occupying
no more than a single terrace building in Bloomsbury. But in an academic
environment that seems increasingly to favour larger institutions, it is a constant
struggle for a smallish SOAS to survive.
But is being relatively small such a disadvantage? There are those academics and
visitors, from Britain and abroad, who continue to welcome the relatively small
size of the School - the greater freedom of communication it can allow between
staff and students or across regional and disciplinary fields that might elsewhere
be hived off into physically separate locations. SOAS still has a feeling of intimacy
and immediacy, a kind of collective buzz, that many other higher education
institutions in this country and around the world have lost or were never fortunate
enough ever to have had. However, while student numbers have grown, the physical
confines of SOAS have expanded, and the volume of teaching and research has
increased exponentially, the number of permanent academic staff, as we have seen,
has not greatly increased over that reached in the Philips era. The increased pressures

on academic time and energy are common to the UK higher education sector as
a whole, but they press particularly hard upon a smallish institution which has
so little room for physical growth and flexibility, and where, as Richard Rathbone
shows, there have been great expectations not only in terms of teaching and research,
but also of commitments to administration in a relatively large number of
departments and centres as well as across the School as a whole. Following the
removal of the former binary divide between universities and polytechnics in 1992,
there has been an ever more intense struggle for competition and survival among
UK higher education institutions and this has recently resulted in an apparent
trend towards mergers: the recent history of University College, including its
absorption of SSEES, provides one model, close at hand, of how academic expansion
can lead to the disappearance of vulnerable smaller institutions. SOAS has thus
far successfully avoided a merger or takeover, and should be proud of its
continuing independence and its ability, in often highly adverse circumstances,
to continue to attract good students at all levels, to develop its estate imaginatively
and to boost its income from research grants and private donations.
It is a tribute to the loyalty and commitment SOAS commands among its staff
and students, that the idea of close association with University College or indeed
any other London college or university has hitherto been resisted, with a
widespread sense, it might be said, that beggary in Bloomsbury is preferable to
being swallowed up in a larger, more amorphous university. Paradoxically,
however, SOAS often finds it collectively difficult to be more bullish about its own
identity and achievements, and to measure itself positively against the country’s
academic giants. Areas of collaboration with other institutions remain relatively
limited or undeveloped, but will certainly need to be explored more actively in
future. Equally, however, any substantial dilution of the long-established regional
and disciplinary identity of the School would rightly be resisted. So perhaps for
the present SOAS’s destiny is sealed - as a smallish but vibrant institution wedded
to a rather specific mission of its own.
The dilemmas of SOAS
As Sir Cyril Philips’s opening chapter clearly shows, the School has always been
torn between two different, possibly conflicting, roles. On the one hand, it has
seen itself as a practically minded institution, providing language instruction or
offering courses of vocational value to outside individuals and organizations. In

this SOAS was perhaps better attuned than many of its counterparts to now current
government expectations of universities’ roles in the modern world. The School’s
central London location has always been a factor in its practical, this-worldly
orientation, and that ill-informed and dismissive term often applied to UK
universities of being ‘ivory towers’ has generally seemed an even less meaningful
description of SOAS (especially perhaps since the construction of the gaunt concrete
of the Philips Building!) than of institutions located in remote fenlands, in declining
county towns, or on bucolic green-field sites. These days part of this practical,
service-oriented, role has been removed from the main departmental activity of
the School and entrusted to the Language Centre, whose delivery of non-degree
training in Asian and African languages to a great variety of users drawn from
government, business and the community has expanded greatly in recent years
under the leadership of Ulrich Kratz, and to the Briefings Office which is now
known as SOAS Interface and is currently overseen by Professor Hugh Baker. The
successful development led by Sue Yates in providing attractive and professionally
run introductory courses and programmes for overseas students through what
is now designated IFCELS (International Foundation Courses and English
Language Studies) has been one of the rather unsung achievements of recent years,
but its crucial contribution to the independence of the School will certainly
command the attention of any future historian of the period.
Especially since the end of the Second World War and the Scarbrough and Hayter
Reports, SOAS has been determined to develop and maintain its reputation as a
leading scholarly institution, with a high teaching and research profile of its own.
In this respect the School has gained in confidence and public recognition since
the start of the Philips era over fifty years ago. It has unquestionably established
itself as one of the UK’s leading institutions, especially (but not exclusively) with
respect to the study and understanding of Asia and Africa, to an extent that could
barely have been anticipated in the 1930s or 1940s. However, part of the
enduring SOAS dilemma is how far it should continue to trade on its identity as
a ‘specialist’, regionally specific institution. As several of the chapters in this history
demonstrate, there have been a number of profound changes in the nature and
orientation of the School since the 1960s. One has been the move away from the
‘classical’ tradition of Oriental and African scholarship (as identified by Christopher
Shackle in his chapter), towards the growth of the social sciences (as Terry Byres
shows), and this trend is clearly set to continue. Starting from the Philips years,
there has been a parallel shift away from pre-modern historical and literary studies

towards greater engagement with the contemporary world to the extent that even
the History Department and the language and culture departments now have a
clear majority of academic staff engaged in teaching and research relating to the
modern world, mostly specializing in the post-1900 world. This, too, is a trend
that is likely to continue, but it would be a pity, whatever student demand and state
funding might favour, to see SOAS lose its standing as a centre for classical’ learning.
Looking back at the early history of the School, one can only be struck by how
far its concerns were located in the study of, and associated practice within, societies
located ‘out there’ in time as well as in space. The origins of the School as a place
for the instruction of trainee civil servants, missionaries, businessmen and wartime
servicemen reinforced the underlying sense of serving, intellectually as well as
administratively, the needs of an overseas empire. The loss of that empire and
the emergence of a multi-racial society in Britain have gradually encouraged SOAS
to rethink its role. It remains, of course, a central part of the School’s work in
teaching and research to look beyond the confines of Britain and Europe and to
help shed light on the nature of Asian and African societies. But increasingly the
old division between ‘here’ and ‘out there’ has broken down and the ethnic
composition of the School, teachers and students alike, and the move away from
a certain type of ‘Oriental’ studies has allowed the School to think more freely
about its contribution to the study of the languages and cultures of Asia and Africa
as they operate in twenty-first century Britain and about the diasporic communities
that have transformed British society in ways which even in the days of the
Scarbrough and Hayter Reports went largely unconsidered. It is ironic (if
salutary) that at a time when, in the wake of Edward Said’s work, the very idea
of‘Orientalism’ as a legitimate realm of scholarly pursuit has been subjected to
sustained critique, there has never been more need for an intelligent attempt to
nurture such understanding and to value what brings diverse societies and cultures
together as well as to comprehend that which tears them apart.
To this aspect of the School’s gradual intellectual reorientation may further be
linked the significant changes that have taken place within the University of London
itself. As the first fifty years of the School showed, SOAS managed over the course
of several decades to establish itself in the then prized position of being a college
of the University, with corresponding recognition for its degree courses and with
funding routed in large part through Senate House. One of the consequences of
this arrangement was that SOAS thought of itself as essentially part of that wider
academic entity, with a remit to offer specialized teaching and research into the

parts of the world that other colleges did not reach. It was, in effect, a small section
of a huge departmental store, in which other parts of the academic enterprise
stocked all the things that SOAS did not. This had the benefit of carving out for
the School a seemingly secure, distinctive, and largely regionally defined role of
its own. One disadvantage of this arrangement was that while SOAS benefited
from the overall prestige of the University and from some of its administrative
functions, it was also restricted by this role of regional specialist and in some fields
(certainly not all) left it to other colleges to make the running when it came to
innovation and the intellectual development of the relevant discipline. Since the
late 1980s, and especially with the change to direct funding from HEFCE, bypassing
Senate House, the University has in many respects ceased to exist. SOAS still proudly
awards University of London degrees, but in most other respects its teaches and
administers itself pretty much as it likes, subject only to the guidelines and audits
that periodically issue from HEFCE. From being part of a vast departmental store,
if one can sustain the analogy a little further, SOAS has had to become in some
respects more like a well-stocked corner shop that needs to carry everything from
Mars bars to broom handles.
There are certainly those at SOAS who regret this transformation and the loss of
London-wide collegiality and the remorseless competition and intercollegiate
accountancy that it has unleashed. It is alarming when UCL or LSE makes an
appointment in a field SOAS conventionally thought of as its own preserve or attracts
PhD students who, twenty years ago, would unquestionably have regarded SOAS
as their natural home. But, despite some commendable efforts at collaborative
ventures (such as the AHRB Centre for Asian and African Literatures operated
jointly with UCL), universities and colleges in London as elsewhere find it hard
to buck the current trend. The price of finding oneself a corner shop can be high.
It has become ever more necessary to create a SOAS Library that is not only a
world-class research library but also one that can to a large extent replace the
University of London Library as a mainstay of undergraduate and MA student
reading, providing coverage of the arts, humanities and social sciences in general
and not solely with respect to Asia and Africa. Administratively, too, work that
was once done centrally by Senate House has now (with a few exceptions like the
administration of PhD examinations) passed to an already heavily burdened SOAS
Registry, which under the able leadership of Terry Harvey as Academic Registrar
has had to assume a great many regulatory functions previously exercised centrally.

Celebrating independence
But it would be unduly negative - and misleading - to see the virtual demise of
the University of London as merely an intolerable increase in the burden placed
upon SOAS. In some ways SOAS has been liberated by the new arrangement. It
has become possible over the past decade or two for SOAS to think of itself as a
university in all but name and to act with a corresponding degree of imagination,
autonomy and responsibility. While continuing to capitalize on what the combined
reputation and resources of the University of London still provide, the School can
feel more confident about maintaining and enhancing its distinctive scholarly
identity. It can feel free to provide its undergraduate and Masters students with
a better balance than formerly between regional specialization and disciplinary
approach, and to pursue research into areas that were once thought to be well
beyond the SOAS remit. It has also meant that SOAS can now more freely embark
upon collaborative ventures outside the old University arena, with other universities
in London and the southeast in particular, as the collaboration with Surrey and
Surrey Roehampton in the recently instituted AHRB Centre for Cross-Cultural
Music and Dance Performance indicates.
No formal occasion provides a better opportunity for celebrating this independence
than the annual Graduation Ceremonies. It is difficult to remember just how
recently these replaced the relative anonymity of the University ceremonies which
used to include their small delegations of SOAS students. We now have our own
quite distinctive rituals: the long lists of international graduands with extraordinarily
diverse names that pose such challenges to those who have to read them out, the
ever different performances of Asian and African music organized by the Music
Department, and the central ceremonial role which was until recently exercised
with unflagging wit and patience by Lord Howe as Visitor and which is now
performed with equally graceful authority by Baroness Kennedy as President.
Yes, we may reflect at end of each year, SOAS remains in many respects a peculiar
institution. In some ways it has the ability to do what almost no other institution
in the UK can do - to speak with real academic authority (and even a little passion)
about the societies, cultures and polities of two-thirds of the world and indeed
about those millions of peoples who have been part of the transnational migrations
of the past few centuries and of recent decades. It is an extraordinarily important
and privileged position for so small an institution to occupy. And yet at times it
seems almost overwhelming. Academics are often all too conscious of the limits

of what they know and the multiple interpretations that can be brought to that
knowledge, and the study of Asia and Africa have become fields where scholars
often speak with far less confidence and clear-cut incisiveness than may have been
possible fifty years ago. By comparison with some of the universities against which
it measures itself, SOAS has perhaps been too small and too young to speak with
full authority. Conversely, it has been too large and diverse to speak with a single
voice, and it would be reckless if it did. But in the twenty-first century it can rightly
have a more confident sense of its own future and the enormous contribution which
it can make to this society and to a world of ever increasing interdependence.

SPAS 1917-67
A history of SOAS, 1917-67*
Sir Cyril Philips
It was extraordinary that the great age of growth in the British Empire should
have been allowed to pass without the formation in London of an imperial training
centre. The British response had been to devise a series of ad hoc arrangements,
including some training for Indian Civil Service probationers at Oxford and
Cambridge and at University College, London, and language courses in Hausa
and Swahili for Colonial Service officers at King’s College. But by the close of the
nineteenth century renewed attention had been drawn to the problem of the best
way of preparing British officers for imperial administration. Lord Curzon’s cult
of administrative efficiency in India coincided with a growing awareness in London
that existing arrangements were inadequate and that other European countries,
with smaller imperial commitments, had gone further in training officials for
overseas service and in the scholarly study of the peoples and cultures of Asia.
When, therefore, in 1905 a deputation from the Senate of the University of London
sought a meeting with the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and
his Cabinet colleagues to urge the formation of a School of Oriental Studies as a
constituent college within the University, they evoked a favourable response. A
departmental committee of inquiry was established with Lord Reay, a former
Governor of Bombay, as chairman and Philip Hartog, the University’s Academic
Registrar, as secretary. Evidence given to the committee was overwhelmingly in
favour of the creation of a School of Oriental Studies as part of the University of
London. Government departments, commercial organizations, missions and
scholars, all agreed that their needs could and should be met in such a School,
* Precis by David Arnold from The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London,
1917-1967: An Introduction (SOAS, 1967)

and that its creation was a matter of urgency. In its report in December 1908, the
Reay Committee indicated a modest range of studies covering the major
languages of the Near East, India, Malaya and Burma, China and Japan and West
Africa, which would meet both practical needs and scholarly requirements at an
initial recurring cost of £14,000. But it was easy for those with vested interests to
say the right things; the acid test was whether they would provide the means to
achieve the desired end.
A delay of nine months followed before the Report was published and accepted
by Government, and a second committee was formed under Lord Cromer to give
practical effect to the Reay Report. Hartog, who had become a passionate convert
to the cause of Oriental studies, agreed to carry on as secretary to the new committee
and cleared the first, major obstacle by discovering a large building in Finsbury
Circus in the City, then occupied by the London Institution, which would be
eminently suitable as a home for the School. But it took until the close of 1912
for the transfer to take place and another eighteen months to negotiate a government
grant of £25,000 to put the building in order and secure the promise of an annual
grant of £4,000. In May 1914 the Committee issued an appeal for an endowment
of £100,000, but no sooner had gifts begun to arrive than all operations came to
an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the First World War. Nonetheless, on 5 June
1916 the School received its Royal Charter as a College of the University of London
and another appeal committee was formed, but the times were out of joint for
raising large sums of money and the appeal closed, far short of its target, at £36,267.
Hartog appreciated that if any further delays occurred the School might never
come into being: in November the Governing Body invited Dr Denison Ross,
formerly of the Indian Education Service, to become the first Director and the
first students were admitted on 18 January 1917. On 23 February, in the presence
of a large gathering, which included Lord Curzon and other members of the War
Cabinet, and to the strains of music, both Western and Oriental, the School was
formally opened by George V.
Growing pains, 1917-39
The purposes for which the School had been created were stated in the second
article of the Royal Charter. As a School of Oriental Studies in the University of
London it was ‘to give instruction in the Languages of Eastern and African peoples,
Ancient and Modern, and in the Literature, History, Religion, and Customs of

SOAS 1917-67
those peoples, especially with a view to the needs of persons about to proceed to
the East or to Africa for the pursuit of study and research, commerce or a profession.
Since in the discussions leading up to the School’s foundation the primary emphasis
had been on the need to provide practical training for those about to proceed
overseas, it was not surprising that initially the Senate of the University of London
should give only temporary university recognition to the School for a period of
three years and that for the sole purpose of registering students for higher degrees.
With the Director in post and a building ready to start work in, the first task was
to recruit staff. Twenty-six of the teachers already concerned with Oriental and
African studies at University College and King’s College accepted transfer to the
School, even though for most no more than part-time employment could be offered.
Thus, L. D. Barnett, the Lecturer in Sanskrit, was offered the princely sum of £40
a year and the promise of a share of the fees if his students ever exceeded six in
number. On these terms the School ran the risk of not being able to recruit or
retain good staff, and the Governors made an urgent appeal for financial help to
the Treasury. This only produced the laconic reply from the Financial Secretary
that ‘the opportunities of earning an income from the teaching of Oriental languages
must be so limited that it does not appear to me that you ought to have any difficulty
in retaining your existing lecturers or acquiring new ones on existing terms.’
With such restricted resources all that could be attempted in the School’s first decade
was gradually to transform the part-time into full-time appointments, and to attract,
if possible, a nucleus of senior teachers. The University title of Professor of Persian
was conferred on the Director, and to this were added by 1922 four further
professorships and four readerships. With such names as Thomas Arnold in Arabic,
Ralph Turner in Sanskrit, Grahame Bailey in Urdu, Sutton Page in Bengali, and
Henry Dodwell in History, the School was assured of a high academic reputation.
Initially, teaching was offered in twenty subjects, loosely organized into seven groups,
steadily increasing to a total of 74 courses by 1932-33. But the small size of classes,
with only two percent attracting eleven or more students, made the School expensive
to run and rendered inevitable the use of temporary, hourly-paid labour.
In the aftermath of war, national energies had run low, and the insidious effects
of wartime inflation followed by postwar deflation were widely felt. Along with
other major national institutions universities suffered, and every part of the School’s
work in these early years was bedevilled by lack of money. The glaring inadequacies
of university salaries in London induced the London County Council to initiate

improvements, but although a higher scale was introduced, the School was unable
to make the recommended increases. Adamant though he had been in saying that
it would be folly to begin with less than £14,000 a year, in fact the first annual
estimates presented by Hartog were for an income of £8,806 and an expenditure
of £14,065. The budget was eventually balanced, but it was a continuing cause
for anxiety that a large proportion of the income was precarious. The only certain
elements were the £4,000 annually provided by the Treasury, plus a third of that
amount from the London County Council, along with the dividends on the invested
appeal money. From the start, too, against all expectations, relatively little use was
made of the School by commercial firms. However, an approach to the Treasury
made on behalf of all British universities and the emergence of the new university
grants system eased the situation, so that the School’s Treasury grant rose from
£4,000 to £7,000, further increasing in 1921-22 to £12,000 and £13,250 four years
later. Even so, annual expenditure regularly exceeded income, and fresh sources
of aid had to be sought. In 1925 the Governors authorized the Director to pass
round the hat to commercial firms, without success; two years later on the School’s
tenth anniversary a public appeal for funds was made, again with little response.
For Ross especially, it was a dispiriting period, but he continued to seize every chance
of raising money, setting up a committee to formulate applications to charitable
trusts, sending begging letters to Indian princes and seeking out likely donors at
society dinners. But money was hard to come by, and at the end of it all the School
was better off by a mere £750 a year. On the academic side, too, prospects seemed
thin. Opinion in the University generally was uneasy at the School’s apparent slowness
in fulfilling the expectations of the Reay Report, and although recognition for the
registration of higher degrees had been renewed periodically, it was agreed that
the time had arrived for stocktaking. In particular, attention was directed to the
disproportion between the relatively large number of students taking short courses
of an elementary and pre-university character and the very small number taking
university courses. In 1926-27, for example, only 65 of the 528 students were working
for university degrees or School examinations. The only sustained demand for
university courses was in history, mainly from students from India.
The Senate accordingly decided to institute a thorough inquiry, meanwhile extending
recognition of higher degrees for only one year from March 1927. Against the
background of a precarious financial situation, a disappointing response from
commerce and industry, and the slow growth of university courses, the School’s

SOAS 1917-67
future as a separate institution seemed to hang in the balance. However, members
of the Senate rapidly appreciated the real difficulties with which the School had
been grappling and considered that the cost of instruction there ‘must always be
disproportionate to the income derived from students’ fees’, and that, until steps
had been taken to put the School in a position to meet its annual liabilities, each
year on the present financial basis involves a lessening of available resources and
a nearer approach to ultimate crisis’ Such modest increases of expenditure as had
already taken place were deemed unavoidable ‘if the School is to fulfil its purpose’
It was recognized, too, that the School had attracted a distinguished professoriate,
had achieved through its Bulletin an unrivalled reputation for Orientalist
scholarship, and that its library was a valuable instrument for future research. These
considerations led the Inspectors to conclude that ‘the School of Oriental Studies
is rendering great services to the State and to the Empire, and in doing so it is
reflecting credit upon the University of London, and doing work which the University
should be proud to undertake’. In their view its ‘continuance on a sound financial
basis was not only of University but of Imperial concern’. The Senate fully concurred
and extended the School’s recognition for both first and higher degrees and in the
session that followed approved the introduction of first degree courses in Arabic,
Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, History (with reference to India and to the Near and
Middle East), lapanese, Malay, Marathi, Persian, Sanskrit, Pali, Indo-Aryan,
Sinhalese, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu and Hindi.
From this scrutiny the School emerged with great credit and, with the prospect
of full university status, confidence began to rise. A memorandum urging the need
for expansion in both linguistic and cultural studies, including anthropology, was
submitted to the University Grants Committee, along with a request for a recurrent
increase of £5,000. Syllabuses for the new first degree courses were prepared, even
though it was unclear where the students would be found. When it was asked what
its attitude would be towards the newly acquired University of London site in
Bloomsbury, the School unhesitatingly replied that it would welcome the
opportunity of moving to ‘the University precinct’, coming into closer touch with
the central administration and with other colleges and libraries, and thus
enabling staff and students to enjoy‘a larger university life’. Following the Senate’s
vote of confidence, there was also a feeling among some members of the School
that its future lay not in providing ad hoc training courses but as an advanced
centre of university studies.

Thus far, the School’s academic and administrative structure had remained relatively
unchanged. In theory the final word on academic policy rested with the Academic
Board, but this body was too large and miscellaneous in composition to provide
effective discussion and leadership, and so in practice control of administrative
and academic affairs remained largely in the hands of the Director. Genial, bursting
with energy, enthusiasm and good living, and a great conversationalist, Ross carried
his responsibilities lightly and never failed to radiate confidence. But, lacking the
necessary funds, he found it impossible to look far ahead. On occasion he consulted
his senior colleagues, but the system was casual, and, with the University’s acceptance
of a wide range of new degree courses and the urgent need to raise funds, it became
evident that the loose administrative and academic arrangements of the past would
have to be replaced. In 1932, therefore, it was decided to reorganize teaching and
research into eight departments, six devoted to the study of languages and cultures
alongside two others for Oriental history and law and for phonetics and linguistics
(the latter marking the formal introduction of a new discipline into British university
studies). The six‘regional’ departments covered Ancient India and Iran, Modern
India and Ceylon, South East Asia and the Islands, the Far East, the Near East and
Africa (in 1936 this was reduced to four by absorbing Ancient India and Iran and
South East Asia into the other departments). To take charge of each of these a
Head of Department was appointed, and all of the Heads were brought together
in a committee under the chairmanship of the Director with responsibility for
initiating and guiding academic policy. It was a sensible arrangement and one
which subsequently served the School well.
For the first time systematic academic planning across the whole range of the
School’s work became possible, and one of the earliest consequences of this was
a proposal for research into linguistics and African languages. Previously, African
language teaching had been in the hands of Alice and Mary Werner, and on their
retirement an ambitious scheme was propounded by the young phonetician Arthur
Lloyd lames for the establishment of an international centre of linguistic study,
research and teaching, giving special emphasis to spoken African languages. An
approach was made to the Rockefeller Foundation for financial support and,
through the advice of James Gunn of the Foundation, the rather diffuse original
proposal emerged as a compact programme of African linguistic research with
an annual budget of £3,000. Through this work, continued with Rockefeller support
down to 1938, a nucleus of staff was created under the gifted phonetician, Ida
Ward, the Department of Africa was brought into being, and a unique scheme

SOAS 1917-67
of research and teaching was begun. It was a natural corollary, first suggested in
1935 by Lord Lugard, one of the Governors, that the title of the School should
be enlarged to include Africa, which was done three years later.
In this period the pattern of teaching had gradually assumed a new shape, with
a growing emphasis on university courses. The pattern and content of university
education had been little affected by the growth of the British Empire in Asia and
Africa, and apart from government departments seeking training for civil
servants, there was little demand by British students for what the School could
offer. To most Asian and African studies appeared exotic, even mysterious, and
no one concerned with extra-European studies who did not grow up in Britain
between the two wars can readily appreciate how restricted were the opportunities
then available for British students. The almost total absence of scholarships, travel
funds and careers opportunities deterred all but a tiny handful of dedicated young
scholars. Although British students taking such courses were few and far between,
the traditional attraction of Britain for the dependent countries of the Empire,
combined with the presence of a small group of really outstanding scholars (such
as Harold Bailey, Hamilton Gibb and Walter Henning), began to draw students
from abroad, especially for postgraduate study. It was ironic that it should have
been university students from overseas rather than from Britain who for many
years benefited most from SOAS. By 1927-28 the School had 115 overseas students,
rising by 1936-37 to 174, nearly 40 percent of the student population of 428. Despite
this increase in work of university standard, the bulk of the teaching was still in
the form of short courses, usually of several months’ duration and mainly on behalf
of Government, business firms and missions. The demand from firms for this
type of course constituted less than fifteen percent of the whole, and a renewed
attempt to redress this imbalance was made by offering Commercial Certificates
to those completing the short course, but demand fell and the scheme was
abandoned. Conversely, the longer, more testing first - and second - year School
Certificates and Diplomas, mainly in language studies, served a small but steady
demand and were maintained. The School had begun to turn away from
providing short courses of a sub-university character towards the development
of university courses, but progress was slow.
Consistent with this trend, when the University offered SOAS space within the
Bloomsbury precinct it was accepted with alacrity. The Finsbury building was sold
in July 1935 for £219,000, and pending erection of a new building in Bloomsbury

temporary premises were rented in Westminster while the library moved to Clarence
House, near St James’s Park. The Finsbury building had served its purpose
admirably, and no one who worked there is likely to forget either its cellars, which
for long provided the common rooms for staff and students, or its serene and
lovely library reading room, whose wooden floors and panelling glowed with
subdued light. Had the School been able to foresee that, through the vicissitudes
of war and peace, it was to be denied for more than thirty years the facility of a
new library building, it might well have hesitated to make the move. But the decision
to move from the City to Bloomsbury formed a critical turning-point in the School’s
history. Remoteness had encouraged academic isolation: the School was in the
University but not of it. As Henry Dodwell pointed out, it was of immense benefit
for a small, young college, in which there were few long-established traditions,
to move into the heart of the University; symbolically it was right, too, that Asian
and African studies should take a central place in the world exchange developing
in our own time.
Plans for the new building, which was to accommodate an academic staff of forty,
a library of several hundred thousand volumes, a small administrative staff and
an undeclared number of students, were quickly prepared and approved. So
smoothly beguiling was this progress that the Governors could be forgiven for
optimistically announcing in 1938 that The School would be installed in its
Bloomsbury home by March 1941’. Time and again in the matter of new buildings
hope triumphed over experience. Since the sale of the Finsbury building apparently
met the School’s capital needs, renewed emphasis accordingly fell on the
inadequacy of the recurrent funds. Annual income had crept up to £20,000 by the
early 1920s and to £30,000 through the following decade. Renewed appeals to the
City elicited no response, and it became obvious that industry and commerce were
so preoccupied with the economic slump that the School’s only hope lay in trying
on national grounds to obtain greater Government support. The gathering political
tension between the European powers and German, Italian and Japanese ambitions
in Asia and Africa encouraged this switch of emphasis. With some Departments
of State the School’s association was close. From the start the India Office had
recognized the value of its work in training Indian Civil Service probationers by
making an annual grant of £1,250 (later rising to £2,250), but no similar recurring
grant (except for £30 from Hong Kong) had ever been made by the Colonial Office
or by colonial governments. A carefully coordinated approach made to all of the
colonial governments evoked £4,380 for the 1938-39 session, and the Treasury grant
was raised to £17,433. By this period, therefore, annual income and expenditure

SPAS 1917-67
had reached nearly £40,000, but, with one-third of income still drawn from ad
hoc annual grants and donations, the School’s programme of work was far from
secure, the rate of growth of staff was small and long-term planning impossible.
The reading room at Finsbury Circus
At this juncture Ross retired and was succeeded in 1938 by Ralph Turner, who
had first joined the School in 1922 as Professor of Sanskrit, after serving in the
Indian Education Service and in Allenby’s army in Palestine. Ross had managed
against heavy odds to keep the School alive. This was a considerable achievement,
but he had not been able to make it the imperial and practical training centre
envisaged by the Reay Report, or to define clearly the School’s function as a college
of the University. It may be that the two functions were not easily reconcilable.
The move to Bloomsbury was to prove decisive, but time had to elapse before
this could be appreciated. Meanwhile, other urgent considerations had to be faced.
Taking over in a period of national emergency, Turner naturally saw his primary
task as preparing the School to meet any demands which British involvement in
a major war in Asia and Africa would impose on it. News continued to reach London
of the great strides in Asian and African studies being taken by Germany and Italy,
and this threw into high relief the scantiness of the School’s resources, the fragility
of its academic structure, and the lack of a British national policy. A case for putting

the situation right, especially building up the coverage of strategically important
languages, was hurriedly prepared and submitted to the Secretaries of State for
India and the Colonies and to the Financial Secretary of the War Office. An inter-
departmental committee was established to assess the cost of the School’s urgent
needs, which were put at £25,000 a year. Hopes ran high, but the Treasury rejected
the committee’s recommendation on the ground of economy.
Meanwhile, assuming that in the event of war London would be bombed, arrange-
ments were made to evacuate the School to Cambridge, where accommodation
was found at Christ’s College. When war broke out in September 1939, the School
found itself in temporary quarters, its financial resources fully committed to a
half-completed building in Bloomsbury, its staff scattered, its library in storage
and with the bitter knowledge that its teaching establishment was still deficient
in every department. Founded in the closing stages of the First World War to meet
national needs, financially half-starved in the two decades of peace, it nervously
braced itself to respond to a challenge of a totally new order.
The war years, 1939-46
It was only with the greatest hesitation and on Government’s advice that the School
left London for Cambridge, and as soon as it became clear that, despite the air
raids, it was possible to resume work there, a return was made in July 1940. There
had never been any question but that in time of war the School’s proper place
was to be in close touch with the Service Ministries and Departments of State.
The half-completed building in Bloomsbury received a direct hit in September
1940, but repairs were at once made and construction continued. Anticipating
an early entry into its new home, the School found temporary quarters in Broadway
Court, overlooking St James’s station, and was dismayed to learn that the Ministry
of Information, already installed in Senate House, wanted to occupy the whole
of the new building as well. Battle was joined for possession, Sir Philip Hartog,
now a Governor and as dedicated and selfless as ever, energetically leading what
proved to be his last fight on behalf of the School. But it was not until February
1943 that a solution was found whereby the shell of the whole building as originally
planned was to be completed, the School occupying the two upper floors and part
of the basement, and the Ministry the remainder on condition that it would vacate
six months after the war’s end.

SOAS 1917-67
It had been assumed in 1917 that the School would have a significant part to play
in any future world conflict, but by 1939, despite the long, preceding period of
international tension, only the most tentative indication had been given by the
War Office that in the event of war it foresaw the need for some courses in Arabic,
Persian, Turkish, Japanese and Siamese. But no steps had been taken to put the
School in funds or ensure that teachers would be available, and by late 1941 only
two of these courses had been firmly requested. Some work had voluntarily been
contributed, including research by the Phonetics Section into radio-telephone
speech for the Air Ministry, and a short course for officials of the Colonial Office
and British Council. But this constituted a ludicrously small contribution to the
war effort, and the Director found it alarming that, despite the increasing scale
of conflict in the Middle East and Africa and the threat of war in the Far East, no
far-reaching programme of language training for the Services was even being
considered. When SOAS volunteered to give a short course in Urdu for officers
and cadets for the Indian Army, the cost of the fees being met by the War Office,
365 servicemen took up the offer.
In mid-1941 the School made formal representations to the Foreign Office and
War Office, pointing to the critical British shortage of experts in Japanese and to
the long period of training needed to acquire a knowledge of that language.
However, the War Office response, in August 1941, was discouraging. ‘So far as
can be reasonably foreseen at present’, it said, we feel we are ... reasonably insured
in the matter of officers knowing Oriental languages.’ Two months later Britain
was at war with Japan and the Intelligence Departments were desperately casting
around for men able to read and speak Japanese. When the School renewed the
offer its services were accepted, but eight months were still to elapse before any
servicemen actually arrived for instruction. Once trained, they were eagerly snapped
up, and so great was the military need in the Indian and Far Eastern fields of war
that those whose only training was a ten weeks’ course in recognizing and recording
Japanese radio signals, were on arrival in India pressed into translating documents.
After this slow start, the basic courses were built up steadily, and by October 1945
nearly 600 men had qualified. Large numbers of radio-telephonists with some
knowledge of Japanese were required, but the preparation of a short, effective course
offered peculiar difficulties. Lloyd James, Head of the Department of Phonetics
and Linguistics, made some initial explorations of the problem, cut short by his
tragic illness and death, but his successor, the energetic and ingenious J. R. Firth,
devised a system by which men could be trained in a very short period to record

accurately. The Royal Air Force sent its first men for this course in October 1942,
and assuming that the Fleet Air Arm would have like needs, the School gave a
similar invitation to the Admiralty, which showed no immediate interest. Within
a year, however, the Navy was vainly trying to borrow trained men from the RAF
and by August 1943 was sending its own men to SOAS for training. As the war
in the East unfolded, it became obvious that links with China would be of great
importance, and the Director approached the War Office on the likely need for
men trained in Chinese. He got little encouragement, the War Office responding
that 'educated Chinese spoke English’ and so liaison officers 'had no need to speak
Chinese’. As previously with Japanese, the advice rejected in 1942 was taken in
1945, by which time the Services had sent 71 men for Chinese training.
As the demands of war mounted, SOAS was called on to undertake a wider range
of work. The Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department enlisted its aid in reading
letters in languages which could not be dealt with in the Uncommon Languages
Section. More than 32,000 letters in 192 languages were dealt with in this way
during the war, reaching a peak of over one thousand a month in early 1945. The
demand for intensive language courses continued to grow, bringing into the School,
for example, in 1943-44 about a thousand servicemen, and in the process over-
whelming the School’s accommodation and necessitating the transfer of the Far
Eastern courses to some converted houses in Sussex Gardens. Altogether 1,674
servicemen passed through courses at SOAS between 1942 and 1946. With the
accompanying rise in fee income, the School’s financial troubles seemed to be over,
and modest annual surpluses accrued. But this buoyancy was more apparent than
real, the annual grant from the University being still only £21,000, and it seemed
certain that the School’s financial position would be no more secure in the postwar
period than it had been previously. Thought in Britain was everywhere turning
to the postwar world, creating a climate of opinion favourable to development
and change. It was to be expected that in the context of its assumed national role,
SOAS should wish to re-examine its own position and the inadequacy of the
provision for those studies for which it carried a major responsibility. The war,
especially the initial debacle in the Far East and the associated failure of British
military intelligence, could not but provoke renewed discussion on national needs,
both practical and academic. In many respects the School still fell short of what
the Reay Report had proposed, and the sharp comparison of reality with what
appeared urgently necessary to sustain the war effort evoked from departments
a succession of plans for development, first for Near and Far Eastern studies, then

SOAS 1917-67
for Indian studies, and in February 1944 the Foreign Office requested another
consolidated statement of need. A comprehensive summary of these proposals
was gathered together and presented as a plan for expansion over a ten-year period
from the end of the war. The School founded its case less on wartime military
needs than on the likelihood of great changes in postwar Asia and Africa. ‘The
tide of nationalism’, it said, ‘is running high in every Oriental and African country,
and the peoples of those countries look forward to great economic development,
industrial, commercial and agricultural. In this they will welcome the assistance
of the West, but not in the bygone spirit of submission to Western authority.’An
expansion of Oriental and African studies in British universities would assist in
preparing and equipping Britain to take a full and sympathetic part in these changes,
and in adjusting her outlook and policies accordingly. SOAS estimated that it would
need for these purposes a recurrent grant of £35,000, rising to £125,000 by the
end of the decade, along with a £100,000 capital grant to enlarge its accommodation.
In interviews with the Minister for War and the Secretary of State for India, the
Director argued that the time was ripe for a Government commission to review
the future of Oriental and African studies in Britain, and Lord Hailey, then
Chairman of the School’s Governors, added his powerful voice. The movement
of world affairs, the ebb and flow of British fortunes, favoured the proposal, and
the great changes brought about by the war in Asia and Africa, and the wartime
alliance with Russia had made it urgently necessary to make a fresh appraisal of
Britain’s position. In June 1944 Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,
announced the Government’s intention of setting up a commission ‘to examine
the facilities offered by universities and other educational institutions in Britain
for the study of Oriental, Slavonic, East European, and African languages and cultures,
to consider what advantage is being taken of these facilities and to formulate
recommendations for their improvement’. The Commission began its inquiries
in 1945 under the chairmanship of Lord Scarbrough. A former Governor of Bombay
and Minister for India and Burma, no one was more eminently fitted for the task.
The Scarbrough Report, completed in April 1946 and published the following year,
formed a milestone in the development of these studies in Britain. It declared that
the war had given a clear indication of the importance which increasing contacts
between countries would assume subsequently and of the growing significance of
Asia, Africa and the Slavonic world. It had also revealed Britain’s deficiencies in
the number of persons available to provide expert knowledge and teaching about
their governments and peoples. In the Commission’s opinion, this kind of

knowledge in a world at peace, no less than one at war, had to find a permanent
and growing place in British culture, starting in the universities, where the existing
scale of research and teaching was quite inadequate to meet Britain’s needs. The
first requirement was to build strong university departments, primarily in the study
of languages, with some related cultural studies, in place of a few isolated professorial
posts in several British universities. As a means to recruit staff for these new
departments, Treasury studentships were proposed, and provision was also to be
made for those so trained to keep up-to-date by travel abroad. The Commission
was not deterred by the expectation that for some time to come the number of
undergraduates would be small, declaring that the national importance of these
studies and the evident need for much more research justified exceptional treatment.
In this proposed programme of growth it recognized that all of the fields of study
relating to Asia and Africa would be developed in the University of London, mainly
at SOAS, and that for economy, convenience and efficiency the study of the
languages of Africa and South East Asia in particular should be concentrated there.
Incisive in its analysis and practical in its recommendations, the Report received
a warm and enthusiastic welcome.
The fulfilment of the Report was expected to require a period of ten years, the
likely annual cost at the halfway stage being £225,000, with a similar increase over
a second five-year period. The Government accepted these recommendations and
allocated the recurrent sums required as an earmarked grant for the first five years,
and the University Grants Committee invited selected universities to submit
proposals for development. The School submitted the scheme of expansion it had
previously drawn up, being prompted by the Commission’s chairman to raise its
sights and increase the scale of its proposals.
Expansion and recovery, 1946-57
Well in advance of any money forthcoming under the Scarbrough proposals, the
School had been promised by the University of London that its recurrent grant
would be raised to £60,000 annually for the 1947-52 quinquennium. At the same
time Government’s adoption of the Devonshire Report on Colonial Service training
had assured the School of a grant for African language studies, so for the first time
SOAS knew that it could rely on an ample surplus, could start on its postwar
programme, and take a long view of future development. A ten-year period of
expansion was envisaged in which the academic establishment of 63 posts would

SOAS 1917-67
rise by the halfway stage to 218 posts and at the close in 1957 to 256 posts, providing
for general growth in the humanities, with emphasis on the study of history,
language and literature and a modest addition in law and anthropology.
Following decades of financial stringency, academic frustration and wartime
disturbance, this was a formidable and far-reaching programme, but one in keeping
with the times. A new Labour Government, pledged to a policy of reform and
development, had taken office, the unexpectedly quick victory in the Far East had
uplifted the national spirit, and the minds of people everywhere were set on fulfilling
ambitious plans formulated to keep hope alive in the dark days of war. There was
no reason why those who had long called for the expansion of the School should
question the correctness of this policy or the School’s ability to carry through such
a massive enterprise. However, before the war SOAS had been fortunate in getting
teachers of distinction from the missionary societies and overseas services, not
least in India. With the winding down of these services it was obvious that everything
depended on the School’s ability to attract young British scholars into these new
fields of study. A score of temporary teachers, especially in Chinese and Japanese,
had been recruited from servicemen to run wartime courses, and there were large
numbers of demobilized servicemen about to return from Asia and Africa, many
of whom it was assumed would have an enduring interest in those areas. From
these sources alone SOAS thought it could fill as many as one hundred Scarbrough
training scholarships.
Bearing in mind the Commission’s advice on building strong departments, the
School proposed expanding the existing four nuclei formed by the teachers of
the principal languages and literatures of Asia and Africa, whose work had long
been organized on a regional basis, as well as the small but long-established units
of phonetics and linguistics and of history and law. All six departments set to with
a will to recruit and train staff, but some made quicker progress than others. Under
the stimulating sway of J. R. Firth, the Department of Phonetics and Linguistics
expanded in numbers and maintained its leadership role in these fields. In History,
the whole of the quinquennial quota of twenty new posts was completed, covering
all of the major Asian areas in ancient and modern times, and a start was made
in the pre-European history of Africa. Attracting students from throughout the
world, especially from South Asia, the History Department grew within a decade
into the largest research department in a British university. In the regional
departments the principal increases were made by India, Pakistan and Ceylon (with
29 established posts), by the Near and Middle East (26) and the Far East (26),

with roughly half on the language side, chiefly on the modern spoken tongues,
and half in philosophy, religion, the history of art and archaeology. The Africa
Department reached an establishment of twenty posts in language studies, but
progress in the South East Asia field was slow, for the Department, dissolved in
1936, had first to be recreated under J. A. Stewart.
On the advice of the University Grants Committee (UGC) the small number of
teachers in law and anthropology, hitherto attached to other departments, were
grouped together to form Departments of Law (1947) and Anthropology (1949),
under Seymour Vesey-Fitzgerald and Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf respectively,
but not without reservation from some in the regional departments who feared
that process of sub-division might be carried to extremes and who preferred to
keep all the disciplines within the regional departments. But this would have
produced overlarge and administratively cumbrous departments, cutting across
the established lines of development elsewhere in the University. Desirable though
in some ways it may have been to promote regional or ‘area studies’, the regional
departments had not yet turned their attention to this problem of organizing area
studies within the existing framework of teaching either at the undergraduate or
postgraduate stages. Moreover, the creation of new departments by discipline,
on the same lines as History dr Phonetics and Linguistics, not only facilitated their
rapid growth, but also ensured the maintenance of high standards by establishing
them as integral members of the relevant University boards in these studies. These
were crucial decisions, for once taken it became virtually impossible, even if
desirable, to accept ‘area studies’ as the sole conceptual framework within which
to foster the School’s work.
Despite high hopes and great endeavours, many of the quinquennial objectives
were not achieved. It proved impossible to award more than 24 Treasury
studentships, and by the close of the period the net increase in academic staff was
only about one hundred. But SOAS remained confident that the entire Scarbrough
programme could be fulfilled and looked forward in the 1952-57 period to adding
a further 29 posts. No new major departments were envisaged and the aim was
to consolidate existing studies in the humanities, along with modest growth in law
and anthropology. However, the start of the second quinquennium in 1952 coincided
with one of Britain’s recurring postwar financial crises and universities immediately
felt the cold wind of economy. With increased competition for funds within each
university, Oriental departments with small undergraduate numbers were ill placed
to assert their priority. Hitherto they had been protected by the earmarking of

SOAS 1917-67
their grants, but this policy was generally suspect in the universities and the
Scarbrough Commission itself had taken the view that it did not think it necessary
or even desirable that this arrangement should be a permanent one’. The UGC
decided to discontinue the earmarked grants for the new quinquennium and, ‘in
the best interests of the Oriental and African departments’, leave them to compete
for funds with other University departments. With such a poor competitive position,
especially relative to the sciences, Oriental departments fared very badly, and in
most universities their growth came to an abrupt halt. As a grant-receiving college,
SOAS continued to enjoy steadfast support from the University Court and so suffered
less than most. But all London colleges suffered cuts and the School’s recurrent
grant, of between £15,000 and £50,000 in the first quinquennium, fell in the second
to, on average, £8,000. However, it was still possible to maintain some momentum,
and in the following five years 26 new posts were added, representing one-eighth
of the proposed programme.
Although unable to fulfil the Scarbrough targets, in 1955, as plans were prepared
for the following quinquennium, the School reaffirmed its intention of completing
the original proposals by adding a further 53 posts. By this stage the regional
departments had reached a considerable size, India, Pakistan and Ceylon comprising
26 posts, the Near and Middle East 31, the Far East 28 and Africa 21, so that a
reasonable scale of teaching was possible for all the major and many minor languages.
But one adverse consequence of the preoccupation with staff expansion was
inadequate attention to the general failure of Oriental departments to attract British
students, despite the overall rise in student numbers. The number of undergraduates
at SOAS actually fell from 62 in 1952-53 to 56 in 1956-57, so that the question
was bound sooner or later to be asked how far the Scarbrough policy of building
strong departments, independent of undergraduate demand, was to be taken, and
in particular how far young scholars were to be recruited and trained for posts
which would inevitably be largely devoted to research. It had been assumed that
student numbers at SOAS would decline from the very large figure at the end of
the war with the termination of courses for servicemen and the running down of
training courses for the Indian Civil Service and the Colonial Office. Some decline,
too, was expected as the bigger firms instituted their own training schemes. There
was, however, an expectation that some growth in student numbers would follow
from the large increases in staff. Yet in 1956-57, ten years after the Scarbrough Report,
there was no sign of an increasing undergraduate demand in Oriental and African
Studies, and the failure to attract British students appeared likely to undermine

the future of these studies in the United Kingdom. The number of British
undergraduates at SOAS had fallen from 55 in 1947-48 to 27 in 1952-53 and 22
in 1956-57: in 1960-61 there were only 20 British students out of 217. To make
matters worse, a Treasury decision to economize by restricting Scarbrough
studentships to persons already assured of appointment to a university post effectively
cut back the programme and the studentship scheme slowly withered away.
These trends, evident in all Oriental departments in British universities, raised
questions of great importance for the future of Asian and African studies and of
SOAS, but they were not susceptible to easy answers and thorough consideration
of them had unfortunately been deferred and overshadowed by the pressing
problem of how to accommodate the enlarged number of staff and growing library
collections. The School’s buildings as originally planned in the mid-1950s were
meant to provide for a staff about a third of that actually reached by 1957 and a
library collection of about a quarter, and of those buildings, one wing and a fourth
floor remained unbuilt, while the east wing was still only a shell with temporary
partitions. The library was reduced to such expedients as reducing to a minimum
the width of gangways and raising the height of stacks, and storing books in scattered
and often unsuitable store-rooms, including off-site. Five houses in Woburn Square
and some rooms in Tavistock Square, made available by the University, provided
sub-standard space for fifty to sixty members of staff, but there was a complete
lack of large classrooms and purpose-built accommodation. Even the assembly
hall was used as a library reading room and the small and unsuitable provision
for students was lamentable. Enlarged accommodation had become the overriding
need of the School. The University agreed to allocate a site for development adjacent
to the School, but low priority was given to capital funds for building purposes.
The 1960s: Growth and transformation
In 1957 Sir Ralph Turner retired from the directorship, being succeeded by Cyril
Philips, Head of the Department of History since 1947. In Turner’s twenty years
as Director, SOAS had been transformed and given a heightened sense of national
purpose. The Scarbrough programme had not been completed, but two-thirds
of the intended staff increase had been achieved. A substantial number of young
British scholars had been attracted to Asian and African studies, strong
departments had been created and a sound foundation of scholarship had been
laid, particularly in the study of languages and history. But important questions

SOAS 1917-67
of policy could no longer be deferred. It was already plain that the quinquennium
grant for 1957-62, which yielded an annual recurrent increase of £9,000, would
not enable the School to complete the Scarbrough programme. There was some
realization, too, that, given the failure to attract undergraduates, it would be a
mistake to increase academic posts which could have little relevance to under-
graduates. The time had arrived to broaden the School’s range of teaching, and
particularly to emphasize its interest in the study of modern and contemporary
Asian and African societies, by further expanding its commitment to history, law
and anthropology and by including economics, politics, sociology and geography.
However, building up the social sciences depended on a host of uncertainties,
including whether money for the purpose could be raised from the UGC or
elsewhere. Nothing could be attempted without additional funds and it was the
willingness of the Ford, Leverhulme, Nuffield and Rockefeller Foundations to
support new academic enterprise at SOAS which tipped the balance and enabled
SOAS to embark on the long and costly operation of training economists, economic
historians, sociologists, political scientists, geographers and lawyers equipped with
a knowledge not only of their own disciplines but also of the languages, history
and culture of Asia and Africa, and reinforced by first-hand experience in the field.
This was a difficult pioneering effort because no such development on this scale
for Asia and Africa had been attempted previously in the United Kingdom. Success,
if achieved, would in the long run not only enhance the scholarly and practical
contribution of the School but also exert a revolutionary influence upon British
studies in these fields.
Meanwhile the basic question of how to attract students, especially undergraduates,
had come under close scrutiny. In History, where a rich choice of courses was already
offered, combining the study of Europe with that of Asia or Africa, the position
was academically satisfactory, attractive to would-be students and capable of
sustained development. But the majority of honours degree courses at the School
were in the study of Asian and African languages and literatures, many of which
were never likely to be in steady demand. Courses for first degrees in Arabic, Chinese
and Japanese attracted substantial numbers but were in need of review. Their
suitability as three-year courses of study, for British students in particular, who
had to begin from scratch, had to be reconsidered. The educational case for a four-
year undergraduate course was very strong and gradually this change was brought
about in the majority of language courses. Some teachers were convinced that a
good, general education for undergraduates could best be provided through a twin-

subject syllabus, combining the study of a language with equal emphasis on a related
discipline, or by combining two disciplines with a regional focus. An experiment
of this kind, including study in both language and anthropology with special
reference to Africa, was started in 1955, but few students had been attracted and
other regional departments were cautious about extending this kind of course
to Asia.
While some of the existing syllabuses were being revised and made more attractive
to British students, the related question of how to make direct contact with
prospective students and enlarge the catchment area in Britain was examined. It
was essential for the School not only to devise appropriate university courses but
also to create direct contact with schools. Such a programme could best be achieved
through an extramural division making personal contact with head teachers and
their staffs. An education officer, supported by a committee, including representatives
of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Overseas Develop-
ment, was appointed for this purpose. Meetings between schools and small teams
from SOAS were held, a regular programme of lectures and one-day courses for
teachers and sixth-formers was devised with the aid of the Leverhulme Trust, and
a scheme of schoolteacher fellowships was instituted. Assisted by the national rise
in demand for university places, the declining trend in the undergraduate intake
was reversed, and the number of British undergraduates rose from 31 in 1957-
18 to 137 (out of 199) in 1961-62. Thereafter the undergraduate intake remained
at roughly this level, which was as much as the Schools restricted accommodation
would allow.
These new policy directions received a powerful impetus from a report published
in 1961 by a committee of the UGC set up under the chairmanship of Sir William
Hayter to review progress made since the Scarbrough Report and to advise on
future developments. The Hayter Report concluded that the overriding need was
not so much the completion of the Scarbrough expansion as the reinforcement
of the study of the modern societies of Asia and Africa, especially in the social
sciences. This should be done, it said, with earmarked grants over a ten-year period.
Government accepted the Hayter programme and the UGC established a special
sub-committee to supervise the allocation of earmarked funds in the first five years
(1962-67), to provide a pool of lectureships and concentrate effort in six university
centres of Asian and three of African studies, including SOAS. These proposals,
which assured the School a modest allocation of ten lectureships, came with just
enough support to enable the social scientists already in training under

SOAS 1917-67
Foundation funds to be absorbed into the permanent staff, and to facilitate the
creation of a Department of Economic and Political Studies under Edith Penrose,
a new sociology section under Ronald Dore and a new Department of Geography
under Charles Fisher, besides permitting the strengthening of the regional
departments, Anthropology, History and Law. With these additions, the School’s
broad framework of studies in the humanities and social sciences was erected and
given a new orientation.
In the changed climate brought about in British universities by the publication
of the Robbins Report in 1963, earlier hesitations at the School about the desirability
of introducing undergraduate courses in combined and area studies were swept
away, and additional degree courses in history and language, and in languages
and anthropology with reference to Asia and Africa, were launched. Simultaneously,
the introduction by the University of a one-year Masters course provided the
opportunity for a comprehensive postgraduate programme of combined studies
for each of the major extra-European areas, including those covered by SOAS. A
new source of recruitment had thus been uncovered. Within the School the
introduction of postgraduate courses of this scale and complexity precipitated
the long-discussed formation of five Area Centres for African, Near and Middle
Eastern, South Asian, South East Asian and Far Eastern studies, through which
both postgraduate teaching and interdisciplinary studies and research could be
fostered and extended. The Area Centres, which included all members of staff of
the relevant area of study, were intended to reinforce and complement, not to
replace, the departmental system, to create an organic scheme of area study, and
encourage the initiation of programmes of work of national and international
relevance. By the start of 1966-67 the School was thus in a position to offer a
comprehensive range of courses to students from Britain and overseas and to enlarge
its already formidable scale of research.
With 200 academic staff, an enlarged student body and a fast-growing library,
attention returned to the vexed problem of accommodation. The Hayter
Committee had been shocked by SOAS’s lack of amenities and yet, with no assistance
forthcoming from Government or the University, it was plain the School would
have to help itself. Funds were scraped together from the sale of the Finsbury building
and accumulated surpluses to extend accommodation in Tavistock Square and to
add a fourth floor to the main building, thus providing space for classrooms and
staff. For the new library a private appeal was directed by Sir Neville Gass, the
Treasurer, a man of vision, charm and unsparing endeavour. Nearly a quarter of

a million pounds was raised which enabled the School to take up a characteristically
generous offer from the Rockefeller Foundation. Plans for the new building were
put in hand under the architect Denys Lasdun, though it was apparent that the
costs would be high, probably well over £1.5 million.
From the outset the School had allocated a good proportion of its income to
building up its library, by the mid-1960s a major national and international resource,
with some 290,000 volumes, and to making its collections available to all serious
students in the United Kingdom. As a result of this and the central role the School
could play within the British educational system as a whole, the Hayter Committee
put forward (and the UGC accepted) the proposal that the SOAS Library should
be given the financial support 'to operate fully as a national library’. From this
decision two lines of policy stemmed, firstly that the School should initiate close
co-operation between interested university libraries, including those associated
with the newly established Asian and African centres, and secondly that SOAS
should prepare a union catalogue of all works on Asia and ascertain the cost of
acquiring all new and significant publications relating to Asia and Africa. This
was found in 1965 to be £35,000 a year, and with UGC help SOAS set itself to reach
this scale of book collection, which meant doubling its existing outlay, and to increase
its staff of specialized librarians. Agreements between relevant libraries were reached,
providing for a division of responsibility in acquiring materials relating to African
countries. A start was made in the same direction for India, also in exploring the
possibility of co-operation among librarians in making field visits for book purchases,
and in book selection and cataloguing.
During this period, too, co-operative and interdisciplinary staff research regularly
found expression in international conferences. Meetings on 'Historical Writing on
the Peoples of Asia’ (1956 and 1958),'African History and Archaeology’ (1953,1957,
1961), and on 'Linguistic Comparison in South East Asia and the Pacific’ (1961 and
1965) not only produced important advances in knowledge but also created a
foundation and framework of reference for the future. Advanced study groups, for
example on agricultural reform in China, revolution in Asia and Africa, the Partition
of India, or the economic history of the Middle East, became a normal part of SOAS
activity. One mark of the School’s standing was the readiness of the great
foundations to contribute to its research funds, and in these years Ford, Leverhulme,
Nuffield, Gulbenkian, Rockefeller and Wenner Gren between them gave grants
amounting to many hundreds of thousands of pounds. The School’s contribution
to research was remarkable. Its Bulletin., long accepted as one of the leading journals

SOAS 1917-67
of Orientalist scholarship, did much to maintain its international reputation, and
from the School and its academic staff there flowed an impressive and varied stream
of publications. These included new journals, such as the Journal of African History,
the Journal of African Law, the Journal of Development Studies and in 1966-67, in
co-operation with the new Asian centres at Cambridge, Hull, Leeds and Sheffield,
Modern Asian Studies. Through its Publications Committee, the School supported
the publication of academic monograph series, including an Oriental Series, an
African Language Series and Studies on Modern Asia and Africa.
With its considerable size and comprehensive spread of studies, with its ready access
to Londons unrivalled resources, with its record of achievement and tradition
of fine scholarship, and established capacity for leadership, the School had by the
mid-1960s shown a unique potential for growth. It possessed the power and
experience, along with the duty and privilege, to maintain itself nationally and
internationally as a centre of excellence, and thus to make a nobler, richer and
more profound contribution to the welfare of mankind. But one lesson for the
School, perhaps the outstanding lesson of the first fifty years of its history, was
that institutions, like men, must make their opportunities, as oft as find them.

Directors and directions
Richard Rathbone
The Directors’ role
In the ninety years or so since its foundation, SOAS has been unusual in having
been led and governed by an extremely limited number of what we would now
call ‘senior managers’ Sir Cyril Philips retired as Director sixty years after the
foundation of the School and did so as only its third Director. In the nearly thirty
years which have followed Sir Cyril’s distinguished tenure, four Directors (or, more
correctly, three Directors and one Director and Principal) have held the post; but
with the exception of the two most recent Directors, the second of whom took
over only in May 2001, Philips’s successors have held office for notably long periods.
Irrespective, then, of the individual characters and capacities of each of these men,
these structural features have ensured that the history of the School has been shaped
in large measure by a very small number of personalities. As this has been further
underlined by the particularities of the School’s Charter, and its procedures both
formal and informal, which have given Directors considerable but not absolute
powers, there is a tendency to see the history of SOAS as one might see the unfolding
history of a monarchy, a sequence of periods each of whose individuality is
intimately connected and then identified with the particular personality and
capacities of individual kings or queens.
Such a view obviously distorts reality. Although they might have wished otherwise,
successive Directors have not been free agents. Each of them has been forced to
work within the specific structural and historical constraints over which they have
had little control. As the State has been, throughout the School’s life, its most
significant paymaster, national policies for higher education have very significantly
reduced (and have often dictated) the choices open to the School’s management.
In general terms these policies have progressively reduced the freedom of the School’s

management as the practical implications of a more and more pervasive culture
of accountability and transparency have been imposed upon the public services
including higher education. Similarly Directors have not enjoyed an entirely free
hand as each of them has had to encourage the support of (and then carry) their
Governing Bodies, their Academic Boards and until the 1980s, the Vice-Chancellor
and the ruling councils of the University of London. Nor have they acted alone,
for Directors have also directed with the significant, if uneven, assistance of formally
appointed senior administrators and those senior School officers who have been
drawn from the ranks of the teaching staff. These too have constituted a small,
but strikingly long-serving, cohort. For over fifty years the post of the School’s senior
civil servant, the Secretary, has been held by only six men, one of whom served
for only two years before his sad, premature death. And while the title has confusingly
changed with great frequency, the post of Director’s deputy has been filled by a
severely limited number of senior scholars.
There are few discernible regularities which are more than mere coincidence in
these sorts of data. The vast majority of these actors were both white and male
and this regrettable fact is, of course, shared with the histories of vast majority
of similar senior posts in British higher education over the same period. There
are exceptions to the generalization about gender; an obvious but not the only
example lies in the significant post of Librarian , a post which has been held in
the recent past by two distinguished women, Barbara Burton and Mary Auckland.
Three Directors have been drawn from the field of history. For reasons which are
not entirely clear this discipline has also been considerably over-represented in
the ranks of Deans and Pro-Directors in the past thirty years in contrast with the
notable under-representation of social scientists in those posts.
The Philips era
Sir Cyril Philips’s vigorous intellectual imagination and his astute understanding
and skilful operation of the shifting politics of higher education in the 1950s and
1960s were in large measure responsible for the great transformation and the
modernization of the School during his period in office. SOAS had long been a
small, specialist, often eccentric and certainly fragile institution. By the time Philips
left the Directorship, the School had a new look of and, even more importantly,
a sense of permanence. At long last it had what then felt like a capacious new
building, now quite appropriately called the Philips Building, in which to house

its library collection as well as office and teaching space. The architect Denys Lasdun’s
characteristically stark, modernist extension, which at the time some found exciting
and others found brutal, was a physical refutation of those who continued to regard
the School as a bastion of arcane, disengaged scholarship. Opened quite literally
to the sound of natural trumpets in a splendid ceremony which contrasted
considerably with Philips’s austere personal style, the very structure of the building
reflected the Director’s own understanding of the nature of scholarship and hence
that of the School. The Library lies physically at the heart of that building, just as
in his thinking it lay at the heart of the School’s endeavours. The world of learning
quickly recognized the benefits as the construction of the new building enabled
the Librarian to bring together a fine research collection which had previously been
scattered in a variety of different depositories.
At the same time the new building allowed the growing number of academics and
their students working in the increasing number of departments to share the same
space. Colleagues whose working lives had been spent in a number of locations
within a wide swathe of temporary lettings in the Bloomsbury area were now far
more likely to encounter one another in the corridor, at lunch, in the Senior
Common Room. While this in-gathering was to prove to be only a temporary
pleasure - the School’s continuing expansion ensured that within a very few years
whole departments would once again be forced into exile - it served another of
the major changes which Philips had initiated. At the heart of his enthusiastic
support for the idea of Area Studies Centres lay his belief in interdisciplinarity;
and this in turn was facilitated by the fact that teachers from all the School’s
departments now worked on one site and shared an airy, if smoky, Senior Common
Room. The consolidation of the Library also worked to support the vivid increase
in undergraduate numbers just as it lay behind the success of the Masters
programmes which were launched from the mid-1960s.
Philips’s impact was to be felt not only in the development of teaching and research
and, of course, bricks and mortar - or rather Lasdun’s pre-stressed concrete. In
many respects Philips set the style of the institution. Working entirely within the
Charter and the School’s rules, Philips dominated the governance of the School.
Working in close concert with two very formal, very proper and somewhat
intimidating School Secretaries, H. Moyse-Bartlett and John Bracken, Philips
chaired Academic Board amiably but always firmly. While he did not exercise this
control without challenge - many meetings were enlivened by vivid, if always polite,
exchanges between the left-wing scholar Ralph Russell and the Director —

Philips’s wishes were only very rarely resisted. The Board was dominated by
professors who enjoyed membership simply because they were professors; and
many of them were Heads of Department who could and often would exercise
this authority and its attendant patronage until retirement. The elected element
of Academic Board constituted a numerical minority and while the eventual
addition of the Chairmen of the Centres of Area Studies might have brought down
the average age of the Board, it cannot be claimed that it transformed it, let alone
radicalized it. Speaking-up in front of this somewhat baronial gathering when that
same group were also those who controlled one’s chances of tenure and promotion
required courage, or even recklessness, not least because of the fear of disturbing
meetings whose highpoint for many was the discreet distribution of tea and biscuits
by hushed members of the catering staff. At the same time as Philips was a mostly
constructive leader, the hierarchical quality of School government was similarly
far from simply negative; its rigidity had done much to suggest to a wider world
that this was a mature and scholarly institution. But the rule of distinguished older
men in suits certainly intimidated younger, untenured staff and was especially
daunting for the small but growing number of women.
Philips should certainly be remembered as SOAS’s greatest Director, even if his
final years were ones in which the heavy demands of his Vice-Chancellorship of
the University of London and his increasing profile in national public life meant
that he could devote less time to the direction of SOAS. Some of his most significant
achievements had been the product of his own capacious imagination and sheer
hard work. Others had been the logical outcome of the massive expansion of higher
education in the United Kingdom and the growing realization of the intellectual
and practical significance of African and Asian studies. Enhanced official and public
attention to Africa and Asia, the result of the attenuated end of colonial empires
and the horror of the war in South East Asia, had powerfully validated the School’s
core concerns; and this in turn had probably guaranteed its long-term survival,
a matter which the more pessimistic had episodically doubted before then.
That expansion had meant a growth in the numbers of academic staff. A flood
of mostly younger teachers joined the School in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Most of the new appointees were products of the new national interest in African
and Asian studies in western universities and, as such, few of them shared the
backgrounds of their seniors, many of whom had arrived at their academic
specialism after diplomatic, military or intelligence service before and during the
Second World War. Whatever the proximate causes of these great changes, Philips

was to be institutionally and personally remembered as a distinguished and humane
modernizer, an expander and a developer. And while much of this had been achieved
against considerable odds, his period in office was one of satisfying growth and
one in which the School became better and better known in the outside world and
increasingly capable of recruiting, retaining and producing first-class scholars. Philips
was going to be an extremely tough act to follow.
The Cowan years
That task fell to another member of Philips’s own department, the historian of
modern South East Asia, Professor C. D. (Jeremy) Cowan. Beyond his success as
a scholar, Cowan had already shown his considerable administrative flair as a
constructive and emollient Dean of Students during the stormy era of the late 1960s
in which some of the SOAS student body - and some of their teachers - had played
a prominent role in the internationally widespread student unrest which was to
greatly upset the usually calm Philips and many of the older members of the Senior
Common Room. Cowan’s inheritance was an undoubtedly lively and ambitious
institution. While that might have been enviable, it also fell to him to begin to create
a viable system of governance which could manage some of the results of a decade’s
uninhibited growth. SOAS had grown and its scholarly concerns had expanded
well beyond the older focus of its functional and Orientalist beginnings. That this
expansion changed the nature, and not just the size, of the institution was scarcely
mirrored in its structure and especially its structures of governance.
At the heart of Cowan’s dilemma lay a series of unresolved problems which stemmed
from the fact that the School was still organized, formally and informally, as though
it had remained a small, largely graduate and highly specialist institution in which
everyone knew everyone else. Although there had been a decade’s emphasis upon
building up the ‘modern’ side of the School’s work, SOAS was still politically
dominated by its most senior figures most of whom had understandably been
drawn from the classical’ tradition. The classical’ departments enjoyed, entirely
justifiably, fine international reputations and for purely historical reasons boasted
the majority of the professoriate. But it became increasingly clear that they had
far fewer students than the brasher, parvenu social science departments; and this
imbalance mattered more and more as it became increasingly clear that much of
the School’s funding hung on its capacity to increase the size of the student body.
While logic suggested that the institution’s political structure should evolve and

thus match its significant thematic and even demographic change, its culture
remained an occasionally charming and sometimes an authoritarian (even
intimidating) mixture of high table, officers’ mess and gentleman’s club. Dominant
figures were, as dominant figures will always be, slow to surrender privilege. Widening
the membership of Academic Board, limiting the years for which any Head of
Department might so serve and the opening-up of the processes which determined
how new posts could be created - and how old posts could remain unfilled - were
perceived as radical changes and Cowan was forced to struggle with older, senior
and often internationally renowned colleagues who were, in turn, not slow to accuse
him of being the philistine enemy of scholarly rectitude. At the same time he was
also faced by an impatient cohort of younger, more recently appointed scholars,
who were eager to expand their newly established fields by, for example, increasing
staff numbers and library spending.
Although the competition for scarce resources and for the political authority to
resist - or to carry-out - change is entirely healthy in any institution, SOAS’s history
of centralized authority meant that Cowan was inevitably seen, often unfairly, as
hostile by the School’s many interest groups. Perhaps there can be no better
indication than this of his having carried out his role in a fair and principled fashion.
But it was also unfair in that Cowan had considerably developed a tendency which
had begun in the last years of Philips’s tenure; Philips had come to share some
of his burden with a small number of senior colleagues and this devolution became
more formally established under Cowan. A sequence of academics - Stuart
Simmonds, Charles Bawden and Adrian Mayer - was to support the Director as
his deputy, the Pro-Director, in the years to come. And although their titles were
to mutate with the same giddying frequency as those of British Departments of
State, several senior scholars were to serve as Deans or Senior Tutors in the coming
years (see Appendices). It was the beginning of something closer to Cabinet
government at SOAS, an important shift away from the concentration of power
which had characterized much of the period dominated by Philips and Bracken.
Cowan’s period as Director witnessed the slow but challenging retreat of the central
authority of the University of London and the taking over of the responsibility
for much academic governance by the University’s constituent schools and colleges.
While the University’s larger colleges and schools could relish their new-found
autonomy and direct access to the national University Funding Council, the smallness
of SOAS and the limited size and experience of its academic administration meant

that its capacities were frequently stretched by this change. Now most undergraduate
degrees were to be regulated and managed by schools and colleges rather than
the University’s committees and civil officers. As a consequence, a great many more
functions fell upon the shoulders of the School’s teachers and administrators. Issues
like the determination of entry qualifications, course regulations, quality control
and degree examinations had now to be managed by the School itself. Informality
was increasingly a thing of the past and more and more staff time had to be devoted
to work on a burgeoning number of committees. Individual teacher’s filing cabinets
were henceforward to be stuffed with vast amounts of paper as agendas, working
papers and minutes piled up.
The slow retreat of the University of London was, however, to prove a relatively
minor problem. Jeremy Cowan’s programme of modernization was made even
more urgent by the sudden deterioration of university funding in the United
Kingdom. It became uncomfortably, even dramatically, obvious that the School’s
income and its special factor funding could not support the entirety of its teaching
staff and its extensive programmes. With SOAS’s long, proud tradition of
attracting distinguished overseas students, the Government’s decision to charge
such students what it, arbitrarily, now determined was the economic fee’, whilst
continuing to subsidise those defined as ‘home students’, immediately harmed
the School’s recruitment especially at postgraduate level, and this obviously had
a serious impact on fee income. A unique and growing institution with ambitious
plans was at increasing risk of financial disaster.
There was almost certainly no way of surviving this crisis without surgery and it
was Cowan’s sad task to have to direct that surgery whilst doing his best to manage
the resulting pain. In this Cowan was not alone as he was supported by a sequence
of strong Pro-Directors. But the retirement of John Bracken in 1980, who had served
as School Secretary for thirteen years, and then the sudden, unexpected death in
office of his successor, Colin Moore in 1983, exposed the School’s civil service at
a critical time. The appointment of the widely liked and much respected Director
of the School’s External Services department, E. (Ted) O’Connor to the Secretaryship
was to prove to be an outstanding success as O’Connor was able to maintain the
affection and confidence of his colleagues for the following four years, a profoundly
depressing time when people feared not only for their jobs but also for the futures
of their fields.

It was, however, widely recognized that reform and regulation were essential, even
if there was no agreement about the exact form of such changes. With the support
of Academic Board and then Governing Body, in 1982 the Director set up a Working
Party on Longer-term Development under the chairmanship of Malcolm Yapp,
the Dean of Studies and an historian of the Near and Middle East. Although its
remit was couched in suitably optimistic terms, it was clear that this Working Party
would not only nominate areas in which growth should be encouraged (and hence
funded), but would also determine which fields would necessarily stagnate or even
die. Few had any illusions that this also meant early retirement for some teachers
and the possibility of worse for others. Professional and personal fears meant that
the long labours of the Working Party would be felt to be a divisive process and,
however necessary it might have been, it was one which was doomed to make
everybody unhappy.
This was the first time that the scholarly community at SOAS was confronted with
the apparently uncaring and thoughtless implications of the market place. It was
especially painful as the School’s traditionally unworldly academic culture had
habitually, if naively, regarded itself as above such crudities. It was a process which
hardened, even coarsened, the institution and gave personal and departmental
rivalries a harsher edge. Those who were to benefit from the exercise felt that they
should have been more extensively favoured; those who were to lose out in the
process of review deeply resented an implicitly judgmental process. This could be
and was seen, however unfairly, as sometimes being arbitrary and as cravenly
regarding scholarly significance as secondary to a field’s capacity to attract large
numbers of students. Involving as it did assumptions about an uncertain future,
the Report of the Working Party was inevitably an uneven, imperfect plan. But
the findings of the Yapp Report, as it became known, were to be used as a managerial
template for many years to come. Posts in fields singled out as of significance or
with potential would continue to be filled; those in fields regarded as more marginal
or fading were not. In general, the number of teachers in the language and culture
departments was to shrink dramatically in the coming years whilst those teaching
on the School’s ‘modern’ side were to grow; the Departments of Law, of Economics
and Political Studies noticeably expanded.
It was Jeremy Cowan’s - and Malcolm Yapp’s - tragedy to be forever associated
in the Senior Common Room’s collective memory with the gratuitous instigation
of savage cuts’. Like much folk memory, it is larded through with myth and cruel
unfairness. Firstly, there is no doubt whatever that SOAS was living beyond its

means and that one of the weaknesses of the previous two decades of growth had
been a failure to think through how increasing expansion would have to be funded.
For example, while the expansion of the School’s teaching competence was
undeniably exciting, its recurrent and increasing drain on the Library budget risked
damaging the maintenance and growth of the core research collections for which
the School enjoyed a deserved international reputation. And, secondly, it was
frequently forgotten that Jeremy Cowan was only one of an extensive cohort of
British vice-chancellors and principals who were also forced to initiate frequently
painful programmes of retrenchment, which included early retirements, the freezing
of posts and even the closure of departments, many of which were far more brutal
than that endured by SOAS. The School’s Director was no exception to the general
rule that managing such processes invites a degree of profoundly felt, if often
unreasonable, unpopularity. Throughout this exercise Cowan acted entirely
democratically and always with the consent of the bodies working under the School’s
constitution, but it was still the worst of times.
Although the crisis was fundamentally about finance, Cowan had also recognized
that there was a worrying lack of fit between the School of the 1980s and an
administrative and political structure which in some respects went back fifty years.
At the heart of that structure were the academic departments, the number of which
had increased steadily since the 1960s; and these seemed likely to go on growing,
a profound irony given that the financial crisis had actually reduced the numbers
of the teaching staff. Appointment or election to the School’s key committees
recognized not only the importance of representation but also, implicitly, the equality
of departments. Irrespective of the number of their students and teachers,
departments were technically politically equal. Their relative autonomy ensured
that they all had to have departmental heads, admissions tutors, departmental tutors,
examination officers, as well as offices, secretaries and other discrete facilities; it
was often forgotten that all these functions and spaces had to be paid for. The School
supported not only a growing number of academic departments but also Area
Studies Centres of which all teachers in the School were members. Centres, like
departments, also demanded discrete office space and secretarial support as well
as Chairs and MA programme convenors. The costs of all of this were considerable
and were likely to continue mounting as there was constant demand for the increase
in the number of departments and centres. Despite fears, the Yapp Report had not
gone so far as to initiate the closure of any department or centre but had, rather,
legitimated the designation of some fields, which had previously been contained

within old-established departments, as potential departments in their own right.
The School was simply too small to absorb what looked like an endless process of
binary fission whose logical end was that every member of the School might be a
formal and hence paid office-holder at either School, department or centre level.
The inherent problems were laid before another Working Party on the Academic
Organization of the School which was chaired by a distinguished historian and
prominent member of the Governing Body, Professor D. A. Low, then Master of
Clare Hall, Cambridge.
Quite what happened to the resulting Low Report is not entirely clear as it was
mysteriously kicked into the long grass. It was a modest, reforming document
which did little more than seek ways by which to rationalize the School’s ramshackle
political structure, a structure which had emerged rather than being rationally
planned. Its conclusions were resisted by many of the teaching staff and, by failing
to pursue it with anything like energy, by the School’s management. The former
were now almost certainly more inclined to defend narrow personal interests rather
than conceiving of a wider institutional interest possibly because of the still raw
scars left by the Yapp exercise: for them the Low enquiry was a reforming process
too far. The latter seemed too exhausted by the struggles of recent years to engage
in the further battles which would have been necessary to carry through a further
tranche of reforms. The ultimate shelving of the Low Report’s recommendations
was a tragedy and delayed much-needed structural reform in the School by nearly
twenty years.
The McWilliam period
From now onward the permanent concern of the School’s management and
especially its Governing Body and its Finance and General Purposes Committee
was with finance, and part of the problem lay in the direct and indirect costs of
an inappropriate structure. This almost certainly informed the Governing Body’s
decision to appoint Michael McWilliam to succeed Jeremy Cowan after thirteen
years in what had become an increasingly hot seat. McWilliam was to be the first
Director drawn from beyond the narrow confines of the university world. Although
better known for his distinguished career in banking, McWilliam had begun his
career as an applied economist and had more recently devoted a great deal of energy
to maintaining the Royal African Society as, amongst other things, a bridge between
academic study and commerce. There was a widespread awareness in the School

that it had shown that it found it hard to manage itself. There was, accordingly,
an expectation that a professional and, by repute, inspirational manager who had
run a huge enterprise such as the Standard Chartered Bank might bring new ideas
and new methods to re-shaping the School in preparation for the uncertainties
of the next millennium.
There is no doubt that the advent of Michael McWilliam altered the managerial
culture of the School for ever. At a personal level, his ebullient and unpretentious
style - from now onwards first names were frequently to replace titles in exchanges
in committee, for example - was very different from the somewhat austere and
occasionally severe style of both Cyril Philips and Jeremy Cowan. As an outsider,
McWilliam was clearly fascinated by the strapge ways of those he had been appointed
to direct. Like a good ethnographer, he noted the strengths as well as the
weaknesses of the cultures and personalities of those he had come to work with
while being amused or enraged by their eccentricities. As an outsider, he was able
to recognize that the School was a potentially outstanding institution, not least
because it was palpably distinctive and distinguished; its somewhat battered staff
had lost sight of that in recent years. This was not simply a matter of low individual
self-esteem. Partly because of the turbulence of recent years, the School’s corporate
self-presentation had been modest and defensive to the point of being almost
absurdly self-effacing. So keen had the School been to demonstrate that it was every
bit as respectable as any other British university that it had played down, even
concealed, its particularities, many of which were, in fact, its strengths and which
contributed towards its intriguing uniqueness. It was an institution which had grown
up as a very small and rather odd member of the University of London and it had
become unnecessarily deferential towards larger and, SOAS members seemed to
feel, better-known, more famous colleges like the London School of Economics
or University College.
Michael McWilliam was successful in raising the external profile of the School
during his Directorship. With considerable imagination he - and his successor
- used vacancies on the Governing Body to bring in new Governors who, unlike
their predecessors, were not necessarily distinguished scholars but were, rather,
significant figures from non-governmental organizations, from publishing,
banking or international commerce. The involved concern of many of these new
Governors helped in the task of proclaiming the relevance of SOAS and its work
to a wider world. And the company of such interesting and important people helped
McWilliam and his successor Sir Tim Lankester to inject some much needed and

well-deserved doses of self-regard into their unnecessarily modest colleagues. The
decade of the 1990s was certainly that during which members of the School could
at last assume that people outside the limited world of the university would
habitually recognize the initials SOAS, or even the word 'Soas’, without having to
spell out the institution’s name in its tongue-twisting entirety.
Like all paranoid families, university communities tend to be suspicious of change
and there was widespread suspicion that an outsider like McWilliam could have
no understanding of what was variously understood to be the 'mission of the
School. That nervousness was to a very large extent lessened by the towering, even
looming, presence of Professor John Wansbrough who had been Pro-Director
since 1985. A very distinguished and internationally celebrated scholar, and coming
as he did from one of the departments of language and culture on the 'classical’
side of the School, Wansbrough was in a great many ways an ideal collaborator
and foil for McWilliam. It was to prove a very strong combination but ended suddenly
and somewhat mysteriously with Wansbrough’s early resignation in 1992. This was
a blow but McWilliam had built on precedent in making even more formal the
notion of a management team. For four years he was assisted by not only a Pro-
Director but also by three Deans, Tony Allan, John Peel and Richard Rathbone.
Together with the Librarian, the Registrar, the Finance Officer and two senior but
non-office-holding members of Academic Board, these were to constitute his
Management Committee.
From different perspectives McWilliam and Wansbrough felt that further reform
was essential if the School were to prosper. McWilliam set about modernizing the
administrative structure of the School which was manifestly incapable of managing
an institution which taught thousands of students, employed hundreds of people
and spent millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money every year. In this respect above
all, the School looked absurdly amateurish in comparison with the private sector
he had just relinquished. The School had, for example, not responded especially
wisely to the coming of the new age of electronic information and many of its
systems were relatively primitive. School statistics were frequently unreliable, often
uninformative and inevitably late, and this made forward planning extremely
difficult. Management requests for basic information took ages to complete. And
there was a widely shared view that the School was unusually adept at the unending
re-invention of the wheel. The long-overdue overhaul of much of this aspect of
the School’s governance, an absolute necessity in a new age which demanded
transparency and accountability, was vital to survival. Radical changes of the sort

that McWilliam and his Management Committee envisaged were, however,
continually frustrated by two besetting problems which continue to haunt the School.
Firstly the academic members of the School were stridently resistant to the spending
of any more of the School’s limited finances on administration rather than upon
things more obviously associated with research or teaching. Perversely perhaps,
academics everywhere complain about the increasing administrative burdens they
are forced to bear but resist the costs associated with the lifting of those burdens.
Those costs are partly financial; but they also involve the partial loss of control
over a variety of decisions which academics regard as part of their strongly defended
notion of academic freedom. Secondly, national employment legislation and the
nature of most employment contracts meant that reform depended upon
persuading administrative post-holders to perform in different ways. In some cases
this proved difficult. So far as administrators were concerned the School had to
compete in a job market increasingly dominated by a high paying, booming City.
It was hard to recruit and even harder to retain first-rate administrative staff.
The academic modernizing agenda largely overseen by John Wansbrough
concerned the School’s scholarly output. With no sense of pleasure, he and the
School’s managers recognized that the times were changing and that universities
would soon be challenged by the creation of an extensive system of national review
and audit. The School’s teaching capacity would now be examined by intrusive
panels of inspectors set up by a government agency. Success in such peer-reviews
would hang in part upon good record-keeping as well as pedagogic dynamism in
the classroom. That meant that the sometimes charming but obviously anachronistic
habits of what had once been a face-to-face society, but was now a fast-growing
teaching institution, simply would no longer meet the bill. Mutual trust, reliance
upon inspiration and the back of the envelope were things of the past. Wansbrough
and a succession of undergraduate and postgraduate Deans forced through a series
of reforms which certainly increased the burden of bureaucracy upon teachers and
magnified the sheer volume of paper, but they did so out of necessity.
The School’s research was also now to be peer reviewed by Research Assessment
Exercises. Universities had been funded for research and now government
declared that it wished to examine the quantity and quality of that research. Although
the School had a distinguished record of research publication by outstanding
scholars, Wansbrough detected in some of his colleagues a lack of urgency. The
new urgency was occasioned by the fact that research quality and quantity was soon

Sir Cyril Philips examining plans for the new building

Students relaxing outside the College Building

Members of the Governing Body, June 2002 (Back row, left to right): Sir David John, Professor Christopher Shackle, Dr William Radice,
(Front row, left to right): Sir Joseph Hotung, Dr Bengisu Rona, Mr Jonathan Taylor, Dr Cathy Jenkins, Mr Peter Collecott, Mr Samuel Jonah, Mr Liam Frost, Professor Ruth Finnegan,
Professor Colin Bundy, The Lord Bagri, Dr David Khalili, Professor Elisabeth Croll Professor Ian Brown, Ms Jo Halliday (Secretary), Mr Frank Dabell (Clerk), The Hon Barbara Thomas

The Dalai Lama at SOAS with Sir Michael McWilliam
The President of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Kim Dae-jung,
and his wife, with Professor Martina Deuchler, at SOAS in 1998

The opening of the Vernon Square campus in October 2001:
the Director and Principal, Professor Colin Bundy,
with HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of London,
Councillor Joe Trotter, Mayor of Islington, and the Visitor, Lord Howe of Aberavon
HRH the Emir of Katsina in the Library in 1996

Outside the College Building

together and led to the drafting of an admirable statement about academic freedom
to which all members of the School are now required to subscribe. The more abiding
problems were financial and structural. While a great deal of progress was registered
in terms of increased numbers and levels of research grants, rising numbers of
students and earnings from various forms of consultancy, the fee per student paid
by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) declined in real
as well as in money terms. Maintaining the Library while book and cataloguing
costs rocketed forced unwelcome choices upon staff Now they were frequently asked
to nominate the periodical or journal they would be prepared to sacrifice if the
new journal they proposed was to be purchased. And the increasing use of the new
technology in research and learning imposed new financial burdens in terms of
hardware, software and the expertise needed to maintain it. As ever the School was
asked to either increase its income or make economies. The former tactic proved
elusive not least because successful academic entrepreneurship requires teachers
to set aside time for planning, to use seed money and to use support staff. By the
1990s SOAS could afford none of these luxuries.
Economizing proved to be a no less elusive goal. Quite what could be and should
be cut was endlessly debated but predictably, of course, there were no volunteers.
Attempts to rationalize the administration of the Masters degree programmes in
the operation of a Graduate School were only partly successful and suggestions
of departmental mergers were hotly resisted. When McWilliam and his Management
Committee agreed to attempt to wind up the School’s Linguistics Department,
this proposal was successfully defeated in an extended meeting of the Academic
Board. The need for change was widely understood but there was no agreement
about the nature of that change. Towards the end of the McWilliam era, Academic
Board once again initiated a working party to discuss structural change.
The major achievement of all the post-war Directors was, however, to lead the
School into a position where it was regarded by the outside world as indispensable
and thus worthy of support. Under Jeremy Cowan the School had sufficiently
impressed Sir Peter Parker to make the report he had been asked to make by
government on the significance of Asian and African languages for the commercial
and diplomatic future of the country one which strongly supported the School’s
mission. In 1993, during McWilliams stewardship, the School was even more
directly observed and the resulting Raisman Report was no less supportive of much
of what the School sought to achieve. It is almost certain that without such

persuasive public plaudits, the readiness of HEFCE to recognize the need for Special
Factor Funding for the unique but important concerns of the School might have
been less apparent.
Recent years
Financially, the School’s survival has rested in no small measure upon the
masterly running of what is somewhat portentously referred to as the School’s Estate.
This owed a great deal to the sheer originality of Frank Dabell, the School’s Secretary
from 1993 to 2002. Dabell’s understanding of the property market and the law
has allowed the School to profit in the form of two much-needed student halls of
residence and a new campus near both of these halls on the borders of Islington.
The purchase and then sale of the halls whilst retaining them as student residences
successfully financed what would otherwise have been a very damaging deficit. The
School’s debt to Frank Dabell, a man whose post inevitably attracts more brick-
bats than applause, is as great if not greater than it is to its recent Directors.
Each of the three Directors so far considered enjoyed early success, then struggled
to maintain momentum for change in their ‘middle periods’ and finally endured
an endgame when a degree of political weakness was underlined by the fact that
it was clear that they were on the brink of retirement. Following a false start, the
Governing Body’s Search Committee recommended the appointment of another
non-academic Director to succeed McWilliam in 1996. Sir Tim Lankester had
enjoyed a successful career in the civil service which, usefully from the SOAS point
of view, had included periods in both the Department of Education and that of
Overseas Development. Aware of the absolute need for continuity, the Pro-Director,
Professor Bob Taylor, generously stayed in post for a term before taking up the
Vice-Chancellorship of the University of Buckingham as Sir Tim acquainted himself
with the ways of the School. Sir Tim was also supported by the continuing service
of Frank Dabell and eventually by Professor Christopher Shackle, the Pro-Director
for Academic Affairs from 1997 to 2003. A formidable scholar and Fellow of the
British Academy, Shackle’s contribution to the School recalls that of John
Wansbrough. His management of the academic life of the School was, however,
to be far more universally admired because of its palpable fairness and imagination.
This had a great deal to do with Shackle’s humour and human decency as well as
his great intelligence.

Lankester and his closest advisors adjusted the portfolios of those who had formally
been called Deans but were now renamed Pro-Directors. There was a clearer
identification with development in the appointment of the economist Laurence
Harris as the Pro-Director for Research amongst whose tasks were to be the
facilitation of the research of staff and students and the management of the School’s
submission to the second Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). Although the
management of teaching was briefly shared between two Pro-Directors, these two
posts were fused in the exceptionally onerous task of the Pro-Directorship for Taught
Courses. This extensive role was taken on and in many respects was created de novo
by David Taylor between 1999 and 2002. With great political skill, Taylor persuaded
a reluctant School that order was preferable to chaos, even if that threatened some
of the strange Spanish customs which departments had defended a Voutrance. Much
of this work was decidedly unglamorous but was an essential preparation for the
era of mass teaching into which the School was now entering. David Arnold took
over the Pro-Directorship for Research in 1999. A highly productive historian with
an enviable international reputation, he demonstrated a very constructive
approach to the facilitation of research and an entirely justified intolerance of those
who promised much but failed to deliver. Unsurprisingly, the RAE for which he
prepared the School in 2001 yielded the highest research ratings thus far. With
Christopher Shackle this was to prove to be a formidable team.
Tim Lankester used his relatively short period in office in a serious attempt to
further underline the immediate relevance and importance of the School’s studies.
Using his excellent contacts in the worlds of politics and international affairs,
Lankester was keen to have the School’s activities closely engaged with and observed
by opinion makers’ whilst ensuring that SOAS had an increasingly realistic sense
of how important it was for its survival to enjoy a reputation as a modern-minded,
relevant institution. But Sir Tim was faced, as had been his predecessors, with a
host of mainly financial problems. He put a good deal of effort into attempts to
improve the School’s surprisingly poor record of fundraising. Despite strenuous
efforts, including the brief employment of public relations and fundraising expertise,
the returns were disappointing. The problem was, once again, the scale of the School.
It was, and is, too small to afford the dedicated fundraising departments which
many larger institutions use to badger both their alumni and those potentially
generous people who wish to be associated with great institutions. For this reason
perhaps Lankester’s attempt to create just such an office in the School disappointingly
failed to pay its way; some critics argued that it was always too small a venture whilst

others argued that such enterprises take years to show results. But even while this
initiative was being withdrawn, the Director and others continued to work hard
on the generation of external funding and donations and not without some success.
Sir Tim Lankester

During Sir Tim Lankester s Directorship, which ended with the millennium when
he took up office as President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 2001, the School
was once again to be preoccupied with the consideration of a new structural model
devised by a working party established by the Academic Board which promised
to reduce the expense of administration by streamlining it. This laid out a sensible
reforming strategy that respected the sensitivities of the teaching staff and proposed
nothing which seriously compromised intellectual or personal integrity. Having,
it seems, learnt nothing from its last flirtation with this crucial issue, Academic
Board again dodged the issue. Clearly the plan included necessary proposals for
internal merger and synergy but these were widely read as unacceptable threats
to departmental or even personal autonomy; and to convince people otherwise

would have required a good deal of effort in the form of political preparation,
effort which was quite simply missing. Ultimately the effect was merely to postpone
structural change.
Under Tim Lankester the School had developed a new style of government whereby
formally at least the academic life of the School was run by a senior academic
whilst the numerous other concerns were managed by the Director. Rational as
this was, the continued existence of the School as, in effect, a huge federation, or
rather a federation of a large number of uneven units, clearly had no future. Far
too much academic staff time was taken up in repetitive, wasteful work which
reduced the hours available for research or teaching. Insisting that a more cost-
effective structure must be adopted was a task that was to fall to Lankester’s successor,
the internationally respected historian of southern Africa, Professor Colin
Bundy. He has already ushered in what is certainly the most dramatic change in
the School’s government in its long history. The cornerstones of identity and political
power for so many decades in the history of the School, the departments, have
been abandoned in favour of three faculties each of which is presided over by a
Dean and a Faculty Board. At the time of writing it is too early to assess the success
of this dramatic and brave reform. But as the School is once again faced with one
of its periodic financial crises, the new faculty structure may provide the Director
and his Deans with a more rational system with which to navigate these new rapids.

Language studies: A play in three acts
Christopher Shackle
The unique character of SOAS has always been closely linked to the peculiarly
prominent place within the School of language studies. It is true that these studies
have long since ceased to have the quite overwhelming institutional dominance
which they formerly enjoyed, both for better and for worse, over the narrower
academic profile of the Schools earlier decades. But the study of language and
of languages continues to be the core defining function of six of the historic
departments of SOAS: besides the Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, recently
re-named the Department of Linguistics, these are the five regionally arranged
Departments of Languages and Cultures, respectively of East Asia, of South East
Asia and Islands, of South Asia, of the Near and Middle East, and of Africa.
Accounting for a majority of the Schools staff at the beginning of the period covered
by this chapter, these departments still contain a third of the academic faculty.
Few if any other university institutions in any country contain this exceptionally
high proportion of language specialists, still less so many specialists in Asian and
African languages. Although its overall institutional share of the British higher
education sector is reckoned at 0.1 per cent, SOAS has the equivalent of more
than 60 full time research active academic staff in these languages, which is over
a quarter of the national total. This massive specialist tilt has had a number of
important implications for the School’s definition and development.
Internally, the historic profile of the five regional departments has influenced not
only the set-up of the School’s Library with its regionally administered collections,
but also the typical internal organization of most other academic departments.
These have primarily defined by discipline but have generally sought to replicate
within themselves the same five-fold regional coverage, typically on what might

be called the Noah’s Ark principle of at least two disciplinary specialists per region.
Perceived tensions between disciplinary and regional coverage have thus in different
ways characterized all the disciplinary departments. In the case of language-based
studies, similar tensions have typically been played out, at SOAS as elsewhere, in
the polarities between those who for the purposes of this chapter are labelled
‘linguisticians’ primarily interested in language and ‘linguists’ primarily interested
in one or more languages and the distinctive literatures and cultures associated
with them. No more absolute here than anywhere else, these polarities have tended
to define the relationship between the Department of Phonetics and Linguistics
on the one hand and the five Departments of Languages and Cultures on the other.
The sometimes awkward working out of this relationship thus forms a significant
sub-plot in the narrative of this chapter, which is itself made intrinsically complex
enough by the academic particularism which is a natural characteristic of language
and culture specialists everywhere, including the SOAS linguists who have
always heavily outnumbered the linguisticians.
Blessed by a long tradition of institutional rhetoric which happily emphasizes the
harmony of its complementary parts, SOAS has nevertheless experienced for just
as long an inherent tension between the five regional Departments of Languages
and Cultures and all the other disciplinary departments. Due in part to the different
bases of their definition, this has been played out against a cyclical struggle with
external pressures, particularly those stemming from the sheer cost of maintaining
the integrity of a uniquely precious collective resource of language-based expertise
on Asia and Africa which is hardly paralleled anywhere else in the world. Over the
last thirty years, this has been a recurrent issue for all Directors, none of whom
has been either a linguist or a linguistician, and for whom the SOAS language
portfolio has as often as not constituted a recurrent financial problem quite as much
as a distinctive academic glory. It has, as from the School’s earliest days, regularly
involved SOAS looking to central funding agencies for special support in the national
interest. All this has had its own impact on the development of regional depart-
ments, whose members have at the same time been experiencing the effects of the
wider shift in attitudes towards the study of languages amongst British university
students over the last generation, even if they have not always been conscious of
the close parallels with the experience of their Europeanist colleagues.
The story of language studies at SOAS is both too complex and too bitty to be told
fully or easily, and is here deliberately simplified by treating the five regional
departments as a composite whole. Other omissions of detail have been necessitated

by the frequent uncertainty of the record and by the need for great compression.
The chapter is given narrative shape as a drama with a deliberately limited cast of
named players. It comprises three acts, opening with artificial sunlight streaming
through the french windows on to one of those well-appointed interiors of yesteryear,
followed by the gloomy setting of a grimly realist second act, and rounded off by
finale which with the help of some theatrical magic succeeds in ending on a genuinely
upbeat note.
Act I: Coverage and contentment
Dhanyanam girikandare nivasatam
jyotih param dhyayatam
How favoured you are to sit in mountain caves
to meditate upon an inner light
The 1960s are now rightly celebrated as the heyday of Philips’s period as Director,
during which he used the new resources made available by the Hayter Report of
1961 for the development of the social sciences and the founding of the regional
Centres. But in that decade and through to the 1970s, the language-based
Departments of the School still reflected in their strengths and weaknesses the legacy
of the immediate post-war period during which Turner, himself Professor of Sanskrit
and the last of the School’s Directors to come from the language side, had used
the generous funding provided after the Scarbrough Report of 1946 to build up
impressive numbers of language specialists. This is a period of golden reminiscence
for most of those who experienced the exceptionally privileged conditions which
were then made possible by extraordinarily generous funding. There was freedom
from external accountability and, given the very low student numbers, freedom
from substantial teaching commitments, permitting a largely untrammelled
cultivation of the academic life which could lead equally to the extremes of
formidable scholarship and to the limits of professorial eccentricity. In some cases
these were combined in a single individual, most famously perhaps in C. E. Bazell,
the archetypally absent-minded Professor of Linguistics of whom Ruth Kempson’s
obituary recalls: ‘he was probably the most brilliant mind London linguistics has
known, but his total quite undeliberate eccentricity prevented all but the few who
had the privilege of working under him from recognizing his worth.’

The Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, with 13 members of staff in 1966,
had established a major external presence for SOAS under the earlier leadership
of J. R. Firth in the then quite new discipline of linguistics. Within the School,
too, Firth’s exceptional position had ensured a high profile for the department
vis-a-vis the five departments of languages and cultures, which then embraced
over two-thirds of the academic faculty. In the order in which they were then listed
in the School Calendar, pride of imperial place was given to the India Department
(with 21 members of staff), followed by the Departments of South East Asia (13),
of the Far East (23), of the Near and Middle East (30), and of Africa (25).
The academic culture of these departments was still unambiguously dominated
by the high Orientalist tradition, which was itself a nineteenth century extension
of Western classical scholarship. Its leading practitioners combined great learning
with grand schemes which were formidably conceived and executed. If one was
looking for a single monument to the outstanding achievements which the SOAS
regional departments were capable of at their best it would be hard to find a more
apt illustration than Sir Ralph Turner’s A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan
Languages. First published in 1966 and in print ever since, this massive volume
of over 800 pages remains an indispensable guide to the etymologies and the
historical linguistics of the Indo-Aryan language family, containing some 140,000
entries arranged under Sanskritic etyma. The size, the ambition, the scholarship
are equally remarkable, as is the astonishing ability of Turner to keep going, first
as Professor of Sanskrit, then through his long Directorship, to bring finally to
the point of completion in his seventies the great work which he had first conceived
some fifty years earlier while on military service in the First World War as a work
of reference which would do for the Indo-Aryan languages derived from Sanskrit
what W. Meyer-Lubke’s classic Romanisches Etymologisches Worterbuch (1911-19)
had done for the Romance languages derived from Latin.
This great scholarly tradition continued to be practised at the highest level by the
leading members of the serving staff of the regional departments, whose
professoriate in 1966 included five of the School’s seven Fellows of the British
Academy. Two were shortly to leave, the Indologist John Brough for Cambridge
and the Sinologist Denis Twitchett for the United States, while the other three
were to continue distinguished careers at SOAS until their retirement in the 1970s.
These were the Assyriologist Donald Wiseman, the Ethiopianist Edward Ullendorff,
and the Persian scholar and historian of Iran Ann Lambton, whose special presence
in the School is recalled in Hugh Baker’s chapter.

Admittedly not all the faculty were up to this formidable standard. The penny-
pinched regional departments of the pre-war period had been spectacularly
expanded, as the financial resources which resulted from the implementation of
the Scarbrough Committee’s recommendations were used in Turner’s period for
a huge extension of language coverage, more or less irrespective of demand. Besides
providing opportunities for conventionally trained younger scholars, this massive
expansion of the departments over quite a short period had drawn in recruits to
academic life from wartime service experience or the colonial education services,
for many of whom the Scarbrough scheme of Treasury Studentships offered
retraining. Firth had seen to it that all new recruits to the regional departments
had a compulsory year or two of training in the Department of Phonetics and
Linguistics, a practice which continued until the early 1960s and which continued
to be resented by some of those who had experienced it until their retirements.
The level of training provided within the regional departments themselves to their
junior faculty seems to have been a more erratic affair. From the rapid expansion
of staff numbers there resulted the presence for a whole generation of a collection
of personalities who might in charitable retrospect be termed interdisciplinarians
ante litteram, or in a word charming scholars of the old school who used the ample
leisure which the terms of their employment then afforded them to pursue a variety
of interests more or less plausibly justified by their language specialisms. It must
be said that the abundant resources of those years were not always put to the most
productive scholarly use, and it is sad to reflect on all those unwritten grammars
and dictionaries which might have been produced for the later benefit of more
hard-pressed generations.
It should also be observed that as well as languages a broad range of cultural
phenomena including, besides literature, also religion and philosophy, art and
archaeology and music then formed a full part of the remit of the regional
departments, and so the spread of individual academics’ interests was ultimately
beneficial to the expansion of the School’s range of offerings. Some with particular
interests in these fields played their part in the relevant University Boards of Studies.
But little exposure to the outside academic world was required of most academics
in the regional departments, since the London University Board of Studies in Oriental
and African Languages and Literatures was itself effectively an extension of SOAS.
So the regional departments were on the whole very agreeable rather than
intellectually very exciting places to be.

The level of that agreeability did depend very much upon the personality of the
Head of Department, at that period normally a Professor who might continue in
that role for decades and who consequently had the real power to make or break
careers. Very powerful figures in their own right, some of the Heads of Departments
of Languages and Cultures were determined to maintain their historic primacy
over the new disciplines being fostered in the 1960s. Philips’s autobiography vividly
records the bitter feelings evoked by the opposition to his changes mounted by
the Heads of the India and Africa Departments: Tt was the two professorial prima
donnas, John Brough and Malcolm Guthrie, the former opinionated in the
overriding value of intellect, the latter a former missionary in West Africa
convinced that God was always on his side, who posed a serious threat. They were
determined to go on enlarging their already overgrown language departments, thus
pre-empting all hope from school funds of diversifying our studies.’ In fact, by 1966
Philips had won the battle, and the numbers of staff in regional departments were
not to expand further, although they were quite large enough for most to be content
to remain within their boundaries, and notably few were, for instance, to serve as
Chairs of Regional Centres.
Students were certainly still rather few and far between. There were some overseas
research students, especially from India and other Commonwealth countries, but
the numbers of British undergraduates were very small. Registered for the old-
fashioned single-subject degrees of the day, in which everything was decided by
the final examination at the end of the course, with carefully prescribed papers
involving a heavy emphasis on written translation and including plenty of set texts
drawn from the literature of earlier periods, only 27 BA students graduated from
the regional departments in 1966-67, with 6 each in Arabic and Chinese, 2 each
in Hausa, Swahili, Japanese, Persian, Sanskrit and Turkish, and 1 each in Hebrew
and Assyrian, Hindi, and Malay. As always, the demand was greatest for introductory
courses, and much mechanical industry went into the production of internally
circulated elementary language materials, often of pretty amateurish quality. These,
it must be remembered, were the days of the manual typewriter and of reproduction
by stencil. Even though departments possessed ingeniously customized keyboards
with phonetic characters distributed here and there in the less-used corners of the
qwertyuiop layout, this state of affairs caused great problems for those devising
Asian and African language teaching materials.

Throughout the 1970s there was considerable staff stability within the language
departments. This may be attributed to the expanded recruitment of the post-
war period, and to the lack of alternative employment opportunities for most,
other than the exceptionally talented who were recruited to the United States or
sometimes to Oxbridge, not to speak of the excellent working conditions of the
period which encouraged staying put. Nor did the relatively small number of new
recruits offer a challenge to successfully established patterns. Scholarly tradition
continued to be reflected in the pages of the School’s Bulletin, whose Editorial
Board was chaired for most of the decade by Edward Ullendorff, himself an
outstanding representative of that tradition, which was also maintained in
monograph form in the London Oriental Series and other specialist titles
subsidized by the Publications Committee. Gratitude for this necessary financial
support was seldom more gracefully acknowledged than by Harry Shorto, himself
often referred to as a practitioner of the ultimate in exotic scholarly specialism, in
the preface to his Dictionary of the Mon Inscriptions from the Sixth to the Sixteenth
Centuries (1971): Tt is far from being the sum of my gratitude to an institution
which has provided a matrix for the nurturing of such studies scarcely paralleled
elsewhere.’ A similarly protected specialist outlet for the work of many of SOAS’s
numerous Africanists was found within the orange covers of African Language
Studies. It was a while before the challenge of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1974)
was to be seriously felt, and anyway that contentious book’s chief SOAS target
was the historian Bernard Lewis, himself due to leave for the United States in the
same year.
In terms of administrative leadership, too, this was a period in which there was
rather little change among the Heads of Departments, whose term of office was
not yet fixed. In Philips’s last period and much of Cowan’s Directorship, the
Headships of the regional departments were filled for many years at a stretch by
Clifford Wright (Indology and South Asia 1969-83), Stuart Simmonds (South East
Asia 1966-82), Charles Bawden (Far East 1970-84), Ann Lambton (Near and Middle
East 1971-78), and Edward Ullendorff (Africa 1971-77). The longest period of
all was served by R.H. ‘Bobby’ Robins (Phonetics and Linguistics 1969-85), whose
combination of intellectual distinction with a notably affable personality did so
much to ensure the standing of the department in the wider world of linguistics
as well as internally harmonious relationships.

It was possible in those years for the pace of change to be kept quite slow, and for
hierarchical structures to remain very much in place. Although there were
certainly tensions between the regional departments originally funded by Scarbrough
on the one hand and the disciplinary departments substantially expanded by Hayter
on the other, there was sufficient resource in the system for the accommodation of
the different cultures which these embodied. The importance within the School of
the language departments was recognized by the appointment of Simmonds from
1973 to the Deanship, the second position in the School’s hierarchy. In 1981 he was
re-designated Pro-Director, a post which in the following year passed to Bawden
until 1984.
There were some changes. Although undergraduate student numbers remained
very low in the regional departments, there was a gradual shift towards making
the School’s languages available to greater numbers of students through the
introduction of modular degrees examined by course units, and in Phonetics and
Linguistics, close co-operation with University College allowed an active programme
of Masters teaching and research supervision. The departmental structure
remained very much in placed throughout, although the 1970s did see the first
steps being taken towards the separate definition of several humanities subjects
with the formation of Panels and Centres for Art and Archaeology and for Music,
which drew almost entirely upon the members of the departments of languages
and cultures, and for Religion and Philosophy, where they played a significant part
alongside a leadership derived from the Department of History.
Act II: Crises and contractions
Pesa sasimbua roho yangu
Money is the root of all my problems
Swahili song
The Thatcher years were to be a time of traumatic change for many hitherto
comfortably padded corners of British national life, and SOAS language studies
were certainly no exception. Severe cuts to the comfortable pattern of support
which the School had enjoyed as the result of generously top-sliced funding
distributed through the University were suddenly threatened. One of the
Thatcher Government’s first measures was to raise the fees payable by overseas

postgraduate students, a move with particularly serious consequences for SOAS
with its historically high proportion of such students. This was shortly followed
by general cuts in the funding of British universities. The impact of these measures
fell most heavily upon the regional departments, since retrenchments would clearly
have to fall upon the economically least viable parts of the School, which were
concentrated in these departments with their still ample staffing and still small
student numbers.
The vulnerability of SOAS to Thatcherite change thus had particularly important
consequences for the regional departments, who experienced a disorienting period
of shock involving a quite serious contraction in staff numbers. For those who
remained there was a strong challenge to their sense of an historically justified central
place within the School and much uncertainty about their future development.
In comparison to the confidence which had characterized the preceding period,
this was a time of uncertain and often inward looking defensiveness within the
language departments, at worst of a paranoia helplessly directed against the School’s
management and the direction in which it was leading.
Since this was also the time when many of those recruited to the regional
departments after the war were themselves approaching the later part of their
careers, the challenges of adaptation to a changed climate proved less attractive
to many than the quite generous provisions of a centrally funded early retirement
scheme, and SOAS staff numbers were quite sharply reduced, especially in these
departments. The record shows that the enduring folk memory of a sudden
decimation is not entirely accurate, but the painful scale of contraction may be
gauged by the comparison of departmental staff complements for the academic
year 1976-77 with those for 1986-87, when the Department of South Asia had
been reduced from 17 to 15.5, South East Asia from 16 to 8, the Far East from 24
to 19, the Near and Middle East from 27 to 19, Africa from 17 to 10 and Phonetics
and Linguistics from 13 to 8.5. From a total of 114, itself virtually the same as the
112 detailed above for 1966-67, down to only 80, this represents an overall reduction
by nearly a third over ten years.
In the handling of this massive internal contraction an important strategic role
in considering its implications for the School’s future development was played
by the Working Party on Longer-term Development which was established in 1982.
Chaired by Malcolm Yapp as Dean of Studies, the Working Party was made up
of six middle-ranking members of academic staff, including three from the regional

departments. For those of us involved, this was an extraordinary opportunity to
gain a first hand impression of the work of the School at this crucial period of
change. It was a major exercise, involving 29 often lengthy meetings throughout
a warm summer term, and comprising a total of some 120 hours of which at least
90 hours were devoted to face-to-face meetings with all available members of the
academic staff.
Many of these meetings were with members of the regional departments, for the
Yapp Working Party recognized that these departments were collocations of subjects
rather than coherent disciplinary units, as the Hayter Report had recognized but
as had hardly been factored into the internal self-conception of the School, still
less of its Heads of Departments Committee. For the first time an attempt was
made to correlate the planning of staffing numbers with likely teaching needs,
rather than with the loftier considerations of language coverage or of the
abstract needs of pure scholarship which an earlier regime had allowed to be so
freely advanced. So it was that a rough rule of thumb was evolved by the Working
Party for distinguishing between major languages capable of providing a full
undergraduate degree, those for which a half degree would be the optimum offering,
and others from which only single units could be expected. In order to avoid Asian
or African connotations, these three categories were arbitrarily given North
American labels, and were respectively described as ‘Sioux’, ‘Apache’ and ‘Cherokee’
languages. Although the labels predictably met with their fair share of mockery
at the time, the thinking behind the scheme has proved to be of continuing influence
and utility in deciding the pattern of subsequent appointments.
The longer-term development envisaged by the Yapp Working Party was hardly
very encouraging for the regional departments, since yet further reductions in
their staffing were envisaged over time, with a total projected complement of only
57, plus 10 for Phonetics and Linguistics. As before, however, the same special
character of SOAS’s unique mission for Asian and African languages which had
caused the crisis was also invoked to save it. In 1985 Sir Peter Parker, a business
leader with a particular interest in Japan, was commissioned to undertake a one-
man review of the requirements of diplomacy and commerce for Asian and African
languages and area studies. Conceived in part as a sort of mini-update of the Hayter
Report, though excluding from its remit that report’s comprehensive attention
to academic needs, the Parker Report when published in February 1986 made a
robust case for additional resources to be given to language posts which would
in part offset the deleterious consequences of the recent cuts at SOAS and elsewhere.

The School received the lion’s share of the funding which flowed from the acceptance
of the report, and this was particularly valuable for the future development of
the School’s language departments through enabling the establishment of
Training Fellowships to bring in much needed new blood.
Along with these two very significant reports, a number of general trends may
be observed to have characterized the period. It became the practice from the early
1980s no longer to appoint permanent Heads of Department as these positions
fell vacant, but rather acting Heads who would expected to served for fixed terms
of four years in a development which made for greater internal consultation than
had hitherto always been the case. The internal character of the regional depart-
ments itself became less diverse during this period, and their staff numbers were
progressively reduced as the subject centres successfully established for the various
arts and humanities disciplines were converted into full departments of their own.
As is described in the following chapter, this process began with the establishment
of the Department of Art and Archaeology in 1990, followed by the Study of
Religions in 1992. Although the Centre of Music Studies was the oldest of all, having
been established in 1979, its movement to a Department was delayed by its small
size until 1998. New ideas also began to emerge for other cross-regional groupings,
for instance for the study of literature or film. These were much encouraged, if
not to immediate fruition, by John Wansbrough, Head of the Department of the
Near and Middle East since 1982 and the major voice of the regional departments
in the School during his period as Pro-Director from 1985 to 1992.
Besides the pattern of retirements of older members of staff, the notably greater
emphasis on modern studies which came during this period to be characteristic
of the School, as of all other institutions sensitive to changing student expectations,
led to a significant weakening of pre-modern studies across the board, with the
notable exception of a distinguished team of specialists in Ancient Near Eastern
languages. The overlapping gradual reorientation of the regional departments away
from the narrower kinds of philological and linguistic concern which had long
preoccupied many of their members may be symbolized by the closure of African
Language Studies and its replacement by the departmental Journal of African
Languages and Cultures, which recently was itself tellingly re-entitled as the Journal
of African Cultural Studies.

Although less narrowly tied than in earlier years to the publication of SOAS staff
research, the Bulletin of SOAS continued in its special relationship to the regional
departments under Wansbrough’s able chairmanship of the Editorial Board and
with the much valued support over twenty years from 1979 of its Editorial Secretary
Diana Matias, in succession to Doris Johnson’s long tenure of this post. The School’s
Publications Committee, serviced with devoted skill for many years by Martin Daly,
also continued to fulfil its useful role as publisher of last resort’ in encouraging
the publication of the more recondite items of staff research, particularly on the
language side, for which the market would always be very small. The pattern of
individuals’ publications was much the same as it had long been, with a primary
mix of teaching grammars, linguistic descriptions and literary studies, along with
the particular focus on area studies characteristic of those academics within the
language and culture departments who felt a natural affinity with the work of the
Area Centres. With the notable exception of the Department of Phonetics and
Linguistics, which had always been actively tied into an international disciplinary
network, most of the School’s language departments remained fairly inward-turned,
though perhaps no more so than many foreign language departments in British
universities during the period. Certainly, there was no very conspicuous embrace
at that time of the new theoretical emphases which were coming to characterize
literary and cultural studies in Europe and the English-speaking academic world.
The first Research Assessment Exercise of 1989 hardly provides more than the
bare data for judging the consequences of this conservatism, since members of
the regional departments were submitted along the rest of the School’s faculty
for an embarrassingly disappointing rating of 3 under a general area studies rubric.
Many of the posts without significant teaching duties lapsed with the cuts of early
1980s. In the working life of most members of the regional departments, there
was now a much greater emphasis upon the teaching of students - especially of
undergraduates, given the difficulty of attracting serious numbers of qualified
graduate students to more advanced programmes demanding a high level of
competence in difficult languages. Collaboration with other departments was
partially encouraged by the growth in two-subject degrees, which was of great
significance for most languages whose staffing did not permit them to run viable
degrees of their own.

Economies forced the need for a greater attention to more professional methods
and delivery of language teaching. From the late 1980s there was an increasing
diversion of some departmental resource from the appointment of research active
academic staff into the appointment of teaching-only language lectors. Pioneered
by the Japanese section, and soon followed by Chinese and Arabic, this development
was to the great benefit of teaching programmes, especially in the major languages.
New problems for handling different levels of prior linguistic competence as well
as new opportunities were created by the recruitment of significant numbers of
students from Britain’s Asian minorities. Another major change to working
conditions was the provision of desk top computers, a resource of great benefit
to the production of teaching materials in spite of the inordinate amounts of time
that some of those particularly fascinated by the possibilities of the new technology
initially devoted to customizing one-off adaptations for their own use.
Throughout the period a shift had been taking place in the profile of the Department
of Phonetics and Linguistics, with the centre of gravity moving from phonetics
and descriptive linguistics of a kind clearly related and relevant to the language
studies being practised in the regional departments towards a more theoretical stance
more naturally aligned with philosophy and psychology. While the intellectual
distinction of its leading members was unquestioned, student numbers were not
especially high, and there was therefore in some quarters an increased querying
of the place of the Department within SOAS.
These trends formed the background to the stormy events of 1992, which were
certainly some of the most dramatic in the School’s recent history. SOAS was
threatened by yet another major funding crisis, provoked this time by failure to
secure from the University Funding Council any guarantee of the continuation
of the special factor funding on which SOAS had for so long been massively
dependent. Severe cuts had to be contemplated, and at an overnight meeting away
from the School the management team reached the conclusion that the least
damaging way of achieving these would be through closure of the Department
of Phonetics and Linguistics at the end of the academic session, with virtually
immediate effect.
On 27 May this proposal was put to the Heads of Departments Committee, which
recommended its rejection to the scheduled meeting of Academic Board which
immediately followed on that same day. A stormy debate followed, at which all
the predictable arguments were strongly advanced against the most forceful of

the School’s recent Directors in favour of the need for further consideration before
undertaking such a radical step, involving the excision of one of the School’s
outstanding research departments. It was agreed that the matter should be held
over to an extraordinary meeting of Academic Board. In the meantime the powerful
networking capacity of the department was activated and, in a quite exceptional
demonstration of international academic organization, the Director’s office was
inundated by expressions of grave concern about the threat to this historic
department from leading figures in phonetics and linguistics across the world.
The extraordinary meeting of Academic Board on 9 lune was unswayed by Michael
McWilliam’s spirited defence of the management’s decision, and it was resolved
that other means should be found to cope with the large impending deficit.
This was remitted to a senior working party, chaired by David Parkin, which scratched
around in the usual fashion for savings. Most of these, it has to be said, were
irritatingly symbolic rather than substantially effective, like the recommendation
that tea and biscuits should no longer be served at committee meetings, no matter
how protracted their agendas. But this working party achieved a rather larger place
in the history of the School when it was given the task of Basing with the committee
chaired by lohn Raisman which had been set up to make recommendations to the
Funding Council on the case for continuation of the School’s non-formula funding.
A great deal of work went into the preparation of a reasoned case for special support
of the distinctive but expensive remit inherent in the School’s specialist mission
for Asian and African studies. This was the first time for a generation that this
had had to be done, and much time was spent elaborating the picture of the intimate
relationship between all the School’s activities and the special place of languages
within those. Searching questions were asked by the Raisman committee on its
several visits to the School, particularly by its academic members, Professor Richard
Bowring from Cambridge and Dr Richard Werbner from Manchester, who needed
careful convincing that SOAS was no longer making the prodigal use of over-
generous resources of which it could rightly have been accused twenty years earlier.
At one point in November 1992, we felt forced to draw up an internal list of
languages that would progressively have to be sacrificed, depending on the cuts
to the level of support hitherto received which seemed all too likely. The future
of SOAS language studies had never looked bleaker.

Act III: Reconstruction and revival
Gonca gibi har-i gamdan yuregum piir-hun iken
Giilbiin ii giilzar-i bahtum verdi berg ii bar giil
My grief-pierced heart turned crimson like the bud
but now my fortune’s garden blossoms like the rose
In the event, however, the hard work which had gone into the School’s defence
paid off, and early in 1993 the Funding Council largely accepted the case that had
been put, thus permitting SOAS language studies not only to continue with some
reasonable future security, but also to develop in new directions. The changes that
have taken place over the last ten years are largely the product of ideas adumbrated
during the previous decade. The difference has been that the pace of change has
gathered, and much that was previously talked about has started to be seriously
Changes were certainly needed, if language studies were to take their full place in
the new SOAS, an institution which was being transformed by the rapid increase
in student numbers which was required if the School were to survive in the new
conditions of British higher education. By this time, most of those involved with
language studies had over the past ten years increasingly felt their subjects to be
unappreciated and under threat, as resources were increasingly given to other parts
of SOAS, especially law and the social sciences, which were palpably expanding at
a rapid rate while languages at best stood still. These feelings were reciprocated
by a sense elsewhere that, as most departments’ staff-student ratios steadily rose,
so small a portion of the ever increasing burden was falling on the language teachers.
Although such thinking did not always take into account the special conditions
imposed by language teaching, with its need for smaller groups and higher class-
contact hours, this view certainly did not lack justification. In other areas, too, the
language side could be seen not to be quite pulling its proper weight, as in the 1992
Research Assessment Exercise, when the excellent 5 grade awarded to Phonetics
and Linguistics was not matched by the regional departments, which received only
4s in the Asian Studies and Middle Eastern and African Studies units of assessment.

In the post-Raisman era, there was therefore much to be done to ensure the future
vitality of language studies. While the subsequent story of the last few years has
had its share of downs and ups, it is remarkable how much has been achieved,
partly as the result of successful adaptation to change, partly as the result of
implementing ideas which had earlier only been discussed.
Teaching performance has now rightly become a major criterion of success for
British university departments. Greatly increased travel opportunities mean that
many British students today, unlike those of an earlier period, come with some
first hand experience of Asia and Africa. The numbers of students for the major
languages, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic have now become very significant, and
there have been noteworthy increases in the numbers studying languages of the
next tier, such as Indonesian, Hindi, or Swahili. At the same time more careful
provision has been made for the language needs of Masters students. In keeping
with the general trend of students in all language departments throughout the
British system, the strongest demand is for an emphasis on practical language skills
rather than the intensive study of literary texts. To meet this demand, the quality
of all these language programmes has been much strengthened by progressive
modernization of teaching materials, the establishment of year abroad language
study programmes, and by the appointment of increased numbers of professional
language lectors to the staff of the regional departments. External teaching quality
audits of the regional departments in the late 1990s confirmed their very high
standard of performance with near-maximum scores of 22 and 23 out of 24.
Meanwhile, the needs of non-degree students, including the important constituency
of government and business for which SOAS has from its inception been rightly
seen to have a special responsibility, have been catered for by significant
administrative changes. In 1996 a Language Centre was created from the former
External Services Division, and has proved extremely successful in delivering high-
quality teaching to a great variety of students under the academic supervision of
the language departments. The scale of the Language Centres operations rises
annually, and not only includes teaching across the whole geographical range of
the School’s remit but also offers courses in a good many Asian and African languages
which cannot be covered by the departments themselves.
The more realistic and outgoing attitudes towards making the School’s language
expertise more widely available have their parallel in the keener awareness in the
regional departments of the need for a much more actively organized research

culture than was the case in the comfortable past. This has been partly the product
of the successive Research Assessment Exercises. It has also partly been the product
of the changed internal composition of the regional departments, where the exodus
of specialists in other arts and humanities subjects has led to there being a greater
proportion of literature specialists. This resource was first capitalized upon with
the establishment of a cross-departmental MA in Comparative Literature
(Africa/Asia) in 1993. The experience of shared teaching on this programme led
in 1995 to the establishment of a Panel for Comparative Literature in 1995, which
encouraged a number of workshops and discussion groups which were beginning
to pay some serious attention to issues raised by critical theory and contemporary
criticism. These approaches had been rather neglected in the departments but were
making a significant entrance into the School’s intellectual life with the appointment
of critically aware members of staff with responsibilities for teaching Asian and
African English-language literature, itself a particularly attractive field for
postgraduate students.
The unique possibilities which SOAS provides for comparative literary work were
splendidly realized in the memorable conference on the Qasida in Asia and Africa
organized by Stefan Sperl in 1994, at which panels of international specialists,
including members of four of the School’s regional departments, explored the
ramifications of the prime genre of classical Arabic poetry across the huge spread
of later Islamic literatures from Hausa to Indonesian. The substantial proceedings
are recorded in Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa (1996), one of whose
volumes contains bilingual texts of 50 qasidas in 14 languages, including the one
in Ottoman Turkish from which the epigraph to this section is taken.
Numerous other strands have started to emerge in the research interests of staff
of the regional departments, including both new developments and expansions
of well-established activities. Film studies and cultural studies might be cited as
examples of the first, while a case of the second would be the continuing special
contribution of SOAS scholars to the textual study of religions, which is pursued
both in the Department of the Study of Religions and in the Departments of
Languages and Cultures. In the case of Islam, a particular direction to such studies
was given by the establishment in 1995 thanks to a generous Saudi Arabian
endowment of the King Fahd Chair of Islamic Studies, first held by Muhammad
Abdel Haleem.

Meanwhile, the traditional strengths of SOAS in the description of Asian and African
languages have continued to be reflected in a steady stream of publications. The
increased commitment to language teaching and to making Asian and African
languages accessible to a wider public is reflected in the numbers of standard
teaching grammars compiled by members of staff of the regional departments.
Others are engaged in primary research on these languages, as they have been from
the School’s earliest days. It may be noted that, with five out of the seven SOAS
Fellows of the British Academy, the regional departments had the same number
and proportion in 2002 as they had had in 1966. Two have produced recent work
of outstanding significance on ancient languages, David Hawkins in the definitive
primary study of Hieroglyphic Luwian and Nicholas Sims-Williams on Bactrian
and other Iranian languages. On the modern side, Dick Hayward has produced
notable studies of the Omotic and Cushitic languages of East Africa, while George
Hewitt has worked on Georgian and Abkhaz and Christopher Shackle on Siraiki
and Panjabi.
A Bactrian letter

If the linguists have thus continued to thrive, the linguisticians have had a harder
time, as painful changes have been experienced by the Department of Phonetics
and Linguistics. Although the attempt made in 1992 to close down the department
had been foiled, an increased emphasis on theoretical linguistics under the
outstanding intellectual leadership of Ruth Kempson (herself a Fellow of the British
Academy) continued to cause difficulties in perceptions of its fit with the rest of
the School. The widening gulf might be symbolized by the puzzled reaction of
most SOAS members of the audience at what is generally remembered as the most
impenetrable of all recent professorial inaugural lectures, that on ‘Semantic Types
for Natural Languages’ given by Shalom Lappin in February 1997. By that time
several members of the department (which lost Phonetics from its title) had
transferred to regional departments, and when Kempson and Lappin themselves
both left for King’s College in 1998 at yet another time of financial stringency,
the decision was taken not to fill their posts. The further shrinkage of the department
with the departure of fonathan Kaye in 1999 after a brief and troubled period as
its head necessitated a re-design of the Department’s reduced role and teaching
With the turn of the millennium, however, the beginnings of a whole new chapter
in the chequered story of SOAS language-studies were established by a series of
external and internal developments. First, the long-delayed review of the School’s
non-formula funding was eventually conducted in 2000 as a special exercise within
the HEFCE scheme of funding for Minority Subjects. A report from the School
carefully reinforced the case for the continuation of the funding made available
since the Raisman award of 1993. The result was a substantial success, with the
preservation for at least a further five years of the School’s special funding for
most of the Asian and African languages taught in the regional departments, as
minority subjects.
In the same year, the new prominence which literary studies have assumed at SOAS
was recognized by the award by the Arts and Humanities Research Board of a large
five-year grant to support a Centre for Asian and African Literatures at SOAS in
collaboration with University College. Building upon the earlier initiatives of the
Comparative Literature Panel, the successful bid was led by Drew Gerstle. He is
now Director of the Centre, which is running several major research projects pulling
together the literature specialists across the School’s regions and enabling them
to work with circles of distinguished international scholars. This success certainly

played its part in the improved rating for the regional departments in the 2001
Research Assessment Exercise. After their disappointing run of 4s in 1992 and 1996,
they were at last awarded the 5s needed both for some future financial security
and in order to retain full academic credibility within the British university system.
Like all departments in that system, the SOAS language departments have suffered
the strains that go with trying to do more with fewer resources while also being
subject to continual external account. In the case of the smaller departments, the
number of potential office holders was becoming exhausted, and in 1998 the
Departments of South Asia and South East Asia were administratively joined, rather
like England and Scotland in the Stuart period, under a single Head with a single
departmental office. With the arrival of Colin Bundy as Director, the long overdue
opportunity was taken to overhaul the Schools academic organization, and a
Working Party was established in October 2001. As the result of its recommendations,
a new Faculty of Languages and Cultures was established in August 2002, headed
as Dean by Graham Furniss who in an earlier incarnation had been responsible
for the creation of the Language Centre. Made up of the five regional departments,
the Department of Linguistics and the Language Centre, the new Faculty should
allow programmes of both teaching and research to be planned and administered
in a more effective and rational way than the fragmented previous system always
It seemed as if the Department of Linguistics might only be able to play a very
minor role in the new scheme of things. But after the reductions and discouragements
it has suffered in recent years, its fortunes were suddenly reversed in the summer
of2002 by an unexpected and munificent award from the Lisbet Rausing Charitable
Fund for a research and documentation programme for endangered languages.
Besides a ten-year world research programme administered by the School, new
posts are being created within SOAS which will greatly strengthen both the
Department of Linguistics and the new Centre for Language Research which is
designed to bring together the School’s language specialists in a similar way to that
performed for literary scholars by the AHRB Centre. The Hans Rausing Endangered
Languages Project will be directed by Peter Austin, recently appointed as Marit
Rausing Professor of Field Linguistics.

All these recent developments are hugely encouraging for all those who are involved
with language studies at SOAS. No British university can expect a return to the
comfortable circumstances of the good old days, which the SOAS language
departments once enjoyed in such very special measure. With the typical change
in atmosphere from club to office, there are now substantially fewer specialists
in Asian and African languages at the School than there were thirty years ago, but
there has equally been a substantial rise in all-round professionalism amongst
the notably international body of serving members of staff in the six departments
which are now constituent members of the Faculty of Languages and Cultures.
The leaner and hungrier lives of the contemporary academic world do require
hope for their sustenance, above all the hope of having opportunities to do a better
and more interesting job. And after too many brushes with despair, it is this precious
gift which has been restored by substantial recent encouragements to what will
always be a defining activity of the SOAS mission.