SOAS in balancing act

September 26, 1997

PLANS for an extra 300 studentsbut no additional staff will form the basis of a new business strategy for the School of Oriental and African Studies, writes Phil Baty.

London University's SOAS is planning major expansion "for the millennium", but is forecasting a cash deficit for the current financial year. To balance the books SOAS is banking on new cash brought by a 25 per cent expansion in postgraduate student numbers - and 50 more undergraduates - on top of a Pounds 7.5 million three-year fund-raising campaign, according to its strategic plan.

"The financial situation is tight," said director Sir Tim Lankester. "Unless the Government provides large amounts of additional funding we have a strategic choice. Either we cut staff numbers significantly or we increase numbers. Staff cuts would mean losing some of our language courses, which is against our mission."

SOAS already relies on discretionary non-formula funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support "minority subjects", especially languages, said the strategic report. "If these subjects are to continue, it is critical that this funding continues," it warned.

SOAS has a "Pounds 5 to Pounds 10 million" five-year expansion plan, including proposals to increase teaching space, to expand its library of 800,000 volumes and to upgrade its information technology network.

The business strategy also includes plans for greater research and teaching collaboration with other colleges of the University of London and Asian and African institutions. There is also to be a concerted marketing effort, aimed at encouraging private endowments and increasing overseas, postgraduate and short course student recruitment.

A new external relations director, Jim Coe, has already been appointed.

The strategic plan was devised before the Dearing report into higher education, said Sir Tim, but the Government's post-Dearing policy would change little, he said.

"We welcome David Blunkett's funding decision this week. It will alleviate the sector's funding ciris a little. But regardless of the decision we still need to take substantial action."

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