School of Oriental and African Studies - feedback

(47 Posts)
macdhui Wed 16-Jan-19 00:52:48

We live overseas and have no real connection to the UK, My daughter has been offered a place at SOAS to do Sustainable Development. Would be grateful for any feedback.
She has also been offered places at Edinburgh and St Andrews for the same course. She's keen on London - we are wondering if she would have a better student experience at one of the other two.
However we haven't visited any of them and are unlikely to be able to do so before she has to accept a place.

OP’s posts: |
BubblesBuddy Wed 16-Jan-19 06:42:16

St Andrews and SOAS are completely different! St Andrews is small and a self contained town whereas London is massive! What’s available when living in London is completely different from St Andrews or indeed Edinburgh. If she wants London, and many overseas students do, then she may not be happy living somewhere like St Andrews.

It’s never all about the course and the actual university. If you want the bright lights of London, will she truly be happy anywhere else? St Andrews is pretty remote from London.

Of these universities I believe St Andrews is overall higher in the league tables but if you look at the large number of overseas students at SOAS, (and at all London universities) they clearly think a London university trumps everything!

brookshelley Wed 16-Jan-19 06:48:18

SOAS is an excellent university academically, but it has a very small campus smack in central London. I was accepted onto a course there but chose a different university in the end for personal reasons.

If it were my child, having been in the workplace and seen a lot of CVs, I'd choose Edinburgh or St Andrews and encourage a masters/postgraduate course at SOAS to further specialise.

LIZS Wed 16-Jan-19 07:02:12

The London student experience is pretty unique. They live in a vibrant, diverse city often accommodation is pretty rundown and expensive, and not local. Is your dc the type to be easily distracted? London life is not for the faint hearted!

Edinburgh is artsy and international but expensive to live. St Andrews relatively quiet but possibly the most traditional student experience of the 3 as more campus based. Are there practical elements to the courses, if so where would these be based?

anniehm Wed 16-Jan-19 07:47:23

Dd has friends there. Very specialist, right in the middle of London, lots of overseas students but expect to live a long distance away in poor accommodation. Others are much smaller but not specialist and they aren't London. Cost is a big factor for accommodation with London typically 2-3 times more expensive for worst accommodation.

LooseAtTheSeams Wed 16-Jan-19 08:30:15

Well done on the offers! It's complicated to compare SOAS because it's much smaller and specialist than Edinburgh, for example. It has a fantastic location being right next door to Senate House and the main library for the University of London. The department you mention is very good and will have its own slant on the issue of development given the college's specialist focus.
I think the two main questions are how much you want to live in London (cost definitely a downside) and which of the three courses has an ethos that best fits your own interests. Rankings are tricky but have a look at how SOAS is ranked for that particular subject, rather than overall.

BubblesBuddy Wed 16-Jan-19 13:12:44

By the way, if you are well off, then your DD won’t need to be too far out in dodgy accommodation! Plenty of overseas SOAS students that my DDs know are pretty wealthy Saudi students! Posters tend to assume everyone is as poor as a church mouse!


Needmoresleep Wed 16-Jan-19 14:52:29

Bubbles, OP is looking for information. Your DD may hang out with rich Saudis, but they in no way make up the majority of SoAS students.

I speak a language taught at SOAS and over the years have known people who have done research there. I think reputation depends on perspective. In the country I know, SOAS would enjoy a far higher reputation than Edinburgh, and will probably have a lot more visiting fellows etc passing through. In the UK - and across all courses - Edinburgh would.

London or not-London. London is amazingly multi-cultural and can therefore feel more welcoming to overseas students. It is expensive, and it is worth checking what University accomodation is on offer. I don't know if students have access to UCL accomodation. They will have access to University of London Intercollegiate Halls which are close by. The campus is in Bloomsbury which is a quiet area dominated by the University.

St Andrews is small. I don't know again how welcoming either Edinburgh or St Andrews are to overseas students, and to an extent it will depend on the student. However many students at less diverse Universities will be away from home for the first time and busy enjoying their own independence, so perhaps not fully aware of the specific issues faced by someone from across the world. (You often hear complaints that overseas students "don't socialise" when the truth is they probably would, but may feel a bit overwhelmed.)

The one warning flag I would raise, which is also a positive. SOAS can be quite political. Inevitable perhaps when you have students from across the world who are being encouraged to think and discuss, perhaps something that is not encouraged in their own countries. (Perhaps Bubbles' DDs Saudi friends are like this?) So a brilliant basis to start considering sustainable development. However young people/student politics/rabbit holes. If your daughter is sensible it should not be a problem, and it does not harm to be exposed to thoughts, passions etc even if you don't agree with them.

KatherinaMinola Wed 16-Jan-19 15:05:01

This is like that "Kensington or Thamesmead?" post.

St Andrews is an ancient university, very posh and insular.

SOAS is modern, rabidly political, vibrant and cosmopolitan.

Both have a lot of cachet for different reasons (St Andrews for old money poshness and traditional subjects and SOAS for academic rigour especially in fields like international relations).

Which would suit your DD better?

BubblesBuddy Wed 16-Jan-19 22:58:02

I didn’t say the girls my DD knows are a majority! You make things up as you go along needmore! I was responding to the posters who said the outer area accommodation was grotty. Given that 26% of students there are paying overseas fees, it’s a reasonable assumption that a decrnt percentage of these students won’t be hard up, wherever they come from! So, OP, it’s a case of where your DD might feel happiest.

Needmoresleep Wed 16-Jan-19 23:12:11

To divert the thread slightly, but Bubbles repeatedly talks about grotty accommodation in London which is way out and high cost. I have no idea why, given her daughter is several years out of University, plus studied elsewhere.

DS studied at LSE but lived first in an intercollegiate hall, then in a shared flat, both within 10 minutes walk of SOAS and both perfectly nice. Yes more expensive than some other Universities, but St Andrews also has a reputation for being expensive.

And yes some students will be very rich. But these tend not to hang out with other students but instead with a monied London crowd. DC both have overseas student friends whose parents are really stretching themselves to send their kids here. Great, as they work hard, a good example to mine.

macdhui Thu 17-Jan-19 06:22:14

Thank you everyone for responding, I really appreciate it. Finances will be an issue and she will have to be creative about her accommodation, especially if she chooses London.
We live remotely (pop220!) so St A's would feel totally cosmopolitan!
Are some universities more expensive than others for UK students? Is this why KatherinaMinola you say St Andrews is posh and insular? We have sought after universities here but hardly posh or insular. Curious.Lots to think about.

OP’s posts: |
QuaterMiss Thu 17-Jan-19 06:41:35

Can you not say where in the world you are? Then we could tell you which of the three it's most like.

Fwiw I can't imagine a list of choices that includes SOAS and St Andrews! They're about as different as it's possible to be. With Edinburgh somewhere mid-way between.

What does your daughter want from her university experience? As pp have said - there's so much more to it than reading for a degree - her whole life will be shaped by where she goes. If she really can't visit, have you taken advantage of YouTube and every other resource to watch as many up to date videos on the three places as you can?

MariaNovella Thu 17-Jan-19 06:51:43

St Andrews may be “posh and insular” for English students but it has a very large international student body with, in particular, a lot of US students.

macdhui Thu 17-Jan-19 07:49:16

Hi QuaterMiss - sure, we are in N E Western Australia .. 2,450 kms from Perth our nearest city and university. I assure you none of the three universities can even remotely compare to where we live or our daughters experience.
She has gone for a course, Sustainable Development, and chosen universities that offered it. I honestly don't think she ever thought she would be accepted but got into the 4 universities. Neither my husband or I attended university and she is our eldest so we are a little out of our depth.
She has applied for scholarships and will know the outcome in March. That result may well determine where she goes if she's successful. Thank you again for responding and thanks for clarifying MariaNovella!

OP’s posts: |
macdhui Thu 17-Jan-19 07:50:45

QuaterMiss ....its 47c right now, no rain for over 3 months and none forecast !

OP’s posts: |
PiggyPlumPie Thu 17-Jan-19 07:54:06

My DD is at St Andrews and we are by no means posh! She hangs out with a fair few Americans - all down to earth - and plenty of folk from all sorts of backgrounds.

Coming from a smallish town, she loves the community feel and would have been lost in somewhere like Edinburgh.

QuaterMiss Thu 17-Jan-19 07:56:15

So how often do you get to Perth - and does it feel manageable to her?

BubblesBuddy Thu 17-Jan-19 09:10:05

There is no difference in the cost of a course for UK students who are not Scottish! Everyone here will pay £9250 a year for the courses. However Scottish students studying in Scotland pay nothing in fees. Others will correct me if I’m wrong.

All students have to find accommodation and living costs. Uk students take out a loan or self fund or a mix of both.

Op - you obviously know that overseas fees are a lot more, maybe even double UK fees, and then you will have high travel costs. You will have to fund everything else as well and London is very expensive unless you live miles away from the university in the suburbs and menu stufents have to do this. I assume you have looked at halls of residence for year 1 though. Therefore the student experience can be diluted in y2 onwards if the student is not living in an area that isn’t what they imagined London to be. Most Aussie students come here on a year exchange programme.

She obviously wants to spread her wings but is she ready for London, or even Edinburgh? Is she city savvy? If a gentler place is a better fit, then St Andrews. By definition you are rich if you can afford circa £30,000 a year for this!

BubblesBuddy Thu 17-Jan-19 09:12:15

Sorry: correction - if the student is living in an area that isn’t what they imagined London to be.

LIZS Thu 17-Jan-19 09:17:44

Depends where op is and nationality of her dc. EEA students studying in Scotland pay no more than their local fees. There are also reciprocal exchange programs so they can study at Scottish unis for a semester at no extra charge, so you do get a throughput of overseas students at likes of St Andrews.

PaulHollywoodsSexGut Thu 17-Jan-19 09:29:10

Culture shock wise London may be too much. BUT she would probably have a greater choice of making Antipodean friends if a bit homesick.

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city but it’s small, not as small as St Andrews though which has as its nearest city Dundee (pop circa 200k).

Both Edinburgh and St. Andrews are great unis with decent academic clout and a strong student community; yes BOTH institutions have a touch of the “hooray” element; private school douchebags who think they’re in an extension of the 6th form common room but TBH you get that in most Scottish “ancients”.

If you think your daughter would like to be able to mix small town living with nearby city visits and all the fun that entails - St Andrews. Dundee is close, has a thriving student community of its own and is genuinely on the up, has great clubs and pubs. St Andrews town is beautiful and accommodation there inexpensive compared to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh on the other hand is a gorgeous city and steeped in culture and history. Great clubs, pubs, gigs, cinemas, things to do, easy access to Glasgow too if she wants a taste of the other end of the M8.

Sounds like St. Andrews may work best though x

KatherinaMinola Thu 17-Jan-19 09:35:36

OP, it's more the reputation certain universities have and therefore the type of students they attract. Prince William and Kate went to St Andrews, for example. It's a common second choice after Oxbridge for people of a certain class. Its location means it doesn't have other influences in the way that a big city college would have. But for all these reasons it has great cachet if your DD decides she wants to get a job in the City or something like that!

SOAS is much more right-on, partly due to the subjects it specializes in. It has a very diverse student body, particularly ethnically.

My hunch is that for Sustainable Development the course at SOAS would be better, but that's just a guess.

St Andrews would be better for general name-dropping!

Needmoresleep Thu 17-Jan-19 10:30:08

I have really said all I need to. I agree with Katherina.

However, and as I have being doing over the past 4 years, have to disagree with Bubbles over

" London is very expensive unless you live miles away from the university in the suburbs and menu stufents have to do this. I assume you have looked at halls of residence for year 1 though. Therefore the student experience can be diluted in y2 onwards if the student is not living in an area that isn’t what they imagined London to be. "

DS left LSE (about 20 minutes walk from SOAS) after 4 years ago, and had a great time. Whilst I can see why your perspective might be skewed if your friendship group is rich Saudi students, that was not our experience at all. DS spent his first year in an intercollegiate hall and the next two sharing an ex-council flat in a quiet and safe block with three others nearby at similar cost. His friends were a mix of British and frugal international students. There were Auistralians on his course at both UG and Masters level.

Because students can be scattered, a lot more seems to happen on campus, whereas DDs experience in a more traditional University is that very little happens on campus and whilst the richer ones hang out in coffee shops and clubs or at each other's 21 birthday "bashes", the others visit each other in their grotty flats or go to 'Spoons with vouchers pilfered from freshers week.

Picking up casual work, say waitressing at events, is not hard.

London has great transport and walking, Boris Bike and bus dont cost much. There is masses to do that is free. Lots of Universities close to each other, so absolutely normal to go, say, to the popular LSE disco on a Friday night then see a band or something at UCL on Saturday. Bloomsbury is quiet, and the cheaper restaurants/bubbletea shops in Chinatown, just to the south, are packed with students. DS and friends also often cooked in groups. Student London exists in its own Universe, and to some extent is oblivious to the London adults know.

So do the sums on fees, student accomodation and flights. Then note SOAS is probably three years and St Andrews/Edinburgh four. If the figures add up and she wants to go to London, I think she should. Partly because I think everyone should live in London at some stage in their lives, but also because she would get huge international exposure, and if she then works in the development field, would have great contacts wherever she went.

Shimy Thu 17-Jan-19 10:49:21

Totally agree with KatherineMinola. SOAS would be best for a course in sustainable development, it’s their specialty.

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