SOAS is a chartered institution. The School's Royal Charter, granted in 1916, broadly defined the purposes of the School and set out its system of self governance.
The School, which assumed its current title in 1938, is a legally independent corporate body as well as a Charity. The School is a college of the University of London. The School is bound by certain legislation, most notably a number of education Acts which impose certain duties in respect of the terms of employment of academic staff, freedom of speech and the regulation of students unions.
The Education Reform Act 1988 authorised University Commissioners to introduce into the statutes and ordinances of university charters a model statute relating to discipline and grievance procedures for academic staff and the terms under which staff could be employed and dismissed. Somewhat unusually, as a chartered institution, the School Charter does not have formal statutes or ordinances and as a result the University Commissioners laid down a document entitled "The Modifications to the rules of the School of Oriental and African Studies". Under the terms of the Reform Act the University Commissioners were entitled to require that these modifications to the rules take precedence over the School's Charter and any standing orders or regulations created by the Board of Trustees under the powers granted to it by the Charter.
In autumn 1995, the Board of Trustees agreed in principle that the Charter should be revised, modernising a number of sections and setting aside certain provisions which no longer reflected modern practice. The SOAS Charter empowers the Board of Trustees to create Standing Orders which make operational the School's Charter by defining the detail of our system of governance. In agreeing to revise the Charter, the School's Board of Trustees determined that both the broad structure of governance and details of committee terms of reference should be brought together into one document, comprising the School's Charter, the Standing Orders of the Board of Trustees and the Annexes to those Standing Orders.
The School's Charter may only be amended by the Privy Council subject to recommendation from the School's Board of Trustees. Given that the School's Charter has no statutes and ordinances, amendments to the School's Charter are required infrequently. Making changes through the Privy Council is a major and lengthy exercise.
Standing Orders may only be amended by the Board of Trustees. The current Standing Orders replace those originally issued in 1960 which were amended from time to time at intervals ranging from 3-5 years.
The Annexes were introduced to bring under Standing Orders some of the School's procedures and codes of practice which properly constitute part of the School's overall system of governance. Many of the Annexes contain information that needs to be regularly updated. As a result, all standing Committees of the Board of Trustees may seek to amend the Annexes by making recommendations to the Board of Trustees. Sub-Committees of Academic Board and Resources & Planning Committee (formerly Finance & General Purposes Committee) must do this through their respective parent Committee.
The revised Charter was approved by Privy Council to take effect from 20 May 1997. The new Standing Orders and Annexes were agreed by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of Finance & General Purposes Committee and Academic Board and became effective on 1 July 1997. Privy Council agreed a minor modification of the Charter in 2002 to allow student membership of the Board of Trustees and Academic Board.
In December 2001, Academic Board and the Board of Trustees agreed a major restructuring of the School involving the formation of three Faculties and creating three new senior posts of Dean. This resulted in a review of the entire committee structure. Major changes were made to the Standing Orders and Annexes which were agreed by the Board of Trustees on 14 June, 2002 on the recommendation of Finance & General Purposes Committee and Academic Board, effective from July 2002.
The Standing Orders were updated again in 2004. A Revised Model Statue was introduced in 2004 and Privy Council agreed that SOAS should adopt it as a Standing Order subject to modification only by Privy Council itself.
During the 2006/7 academic session, the committee structure was reviewed as part of a broader programme of work designed to turn the School's ‘Vision & Strategy for the Centennial’, which set out the School's intended path until 2016, into a reality. The committee structure was streamlined in order to create a framework which would maximise the School's ability to deliver its strategic objectives. The Board of Trustees approved the revised committee structure in June 2007.
A review of the effectiveness of the Board of Trustees was carried out during the 2008/9 academic session. During the following year, the Privy Council approved the amendments to the Articles that were necessary to enact the recommendations of the review, and the revised document became effective from September 2010.
Since then a variety of amendments have been made. For example in August 2011 the School was given its own degree awarding powers and the Privy Council approved changes to the Articles to allow these powers to be enacted.
This document includes the full text of the School's Charter and Articles, Standing Orders and its Annexes.
Clerk to the Board of Trustees
Updated September 2015