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Research degrees

For further details contact the Postgraduate Research Admissions Team researchadmissions@soas.ac.uk

Postgraduate research forms a major and expanding part of the School’s academic life. With a total student population of over 6,000, SOAS recruits about 120 new PhD students each year and has over 400 research students in all, making it one of the largest research schools of its kind in the UK. The size and diversity of the research student community is an important element in making SOAS a vibrant and highly productive research institution.

Working for a research degree, which can be taken in any one of the SOAS departments, gives students the opportunity to develop an in-depth knowledge of a discipline, region and thematic subject and to become familiar with current research techniques and methodologies.

What is a 'research degree' at SOAS?

There are two kinds of research degree offered at SOAS:


This involves at least three years of full-time study (six years part time), leading to a thesis of 100,000 words and an oral examination (or viva). The thesis must be submitted no later than four years from initial enrolment (seven years part time), must be an original piece of work and an should make a distinct contribution to knowledge of the subject.


This entails at least two years' full-time study (four years part time), leading to a thesis of 60,000 words and a viva. The thesis must be submitted no later than three years from initial enrolment (five years part time) and should be either a record of original research work or a critical discussion of existing knowledge.

In a typical three-year PhD programme, the pattern would be:

Year One: identifying with the supervisor the precise topic for research and the sources and methodology to be used, participating in research training seminars, drafting preliminary chapters, preparing for fieldwork (where appropriate) and for transfer from MPhil to PhD status. (All PhD-track research students are initially enrolled as MPhil students and transferred once their research has reached the required standard).

Year Two: For many SOAS students the year involves extended fieldwork in an African or Asian country. There is further refinement of the thesis topic and argument and the drafting of chapters continues.

Year Three: Students devote time to completing any remaining research but mainly concentrate on writing up and revising chapters for the submission of the completed thesis.

What kind of research topic can I study?

Topics for research degrees can be in any of the disciplines, regions and fields of study offered at SOAS, or in a combination of these. It is important to bear in mind that 

  1. normally an MPhil/PhD topic grows out of work already done at Masters level;
  2. it should constitute an original contribution to knowledge (either by investigating new sources or by subjecting known material to fresh analysis); and
  3. the project should be suitable for researching and writing-up in three years full-time (or two for an MPhil).

RAE scores

SOAS achieved much in the 2008 research assessment exercise. In addition to achieving the premier position in the UK for Asian Studies, four of our units of assessment have figured in the top 25% as compared with their equivalent departments nationally, namely Anthropology, History, Music, and Politics.

In the majority of SOAS submissions at least 60% of the staff submitted were ranked at either the highest grade of 4* (world-leading quality) or 3* (internationally excellent):

  • Music: 80% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*
  • Anthropology: 70% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*
  • Asian Studies: 65% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*
  • Study of Religions: 65% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*
  • History: 60% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*
  • Middle East and African Studies: 60% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*
  • Politics: 60% of the submission was graded 3* or 4*

Why choose SOAS?

The SOAS Library

SOAS has a magnificent library, with 1.5 million items, most on open-access shelves. Its holdings include large collections of published material in Asian and African languages, extensive runs of major serials and a valuable archive (strong in missionary and business records). Research students also have easy access to neighbouring libraries, including the British Library and the University of London Library.

Regional Centres

Although departments have primary responsibility for PhD training and supervision, SOAS has a number of research centres in which research students play a vital part. The School has eight regional centres - for Africa, the Near and Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus, South Asia, South East Asia, China, Japan and Korea. Through lectures, workshops and publications, the regional centres promote research activity and provide a forum for lively debate.

Special Purpose Centres

A further element in the thriving research culture at SOAS are the special purpose centres. These combine disciplinary and regional perspectives and are at the cutting-edge of research in their fields.
SOAS now hosts two major research centres funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board - for Asian and African Literatures and for Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Performance. Other centres include those for Buddhist Studies, Development Policy and Research, Gender and Religion, History and Culture of Medicine, International Studies and Diplomacy, Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, Islamic Studies, Jaina Studies and Jewish Studies.

Languages and Cultures

SOAS has a uniquely cosmopolitan character. It attracts students from over 160 countries and from a great diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Central to the School's identity is the study of Asian and African Languages and the relationship between language, culture and society. In recent years, staff and students at SOAS have developed a growing interest in Asian and African diasporas and how these impact on both regional and global issues.

The Research Centre

The Research Centre was inaugurated at the Russell Square campus in 2004. It is meant to provide more facilities exclusively for research students for which two floors are reserved, equipped with state-of-the-art computing facilities. The Centre also houses the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project (HRELP), a £20 million project to document as many endangered languages in the world as possible, and to encourage the development of relevant skills.

How to apply and funding

For further details about how to apply, the different departments at SOAS, funding, start dates and other enquiries please look at the following postgraduate research degree pages.