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. A Revised Model Statute 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.
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. 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.
In autumn 1995, the Board of Trustees agreed in principle that the Charter should be modernised. 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 revised Charter was approved by Privy Council to take effect from 20 May 1997. Privy Council agreed a minor modification of the Charter in 2002 to allow student membership of the Board of Trustees and Academic Board.
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.
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. During the 2016/17 academic session, the committee structure was revised following an externally facilitated governance review and the decision of Academic Board and the Board of Trustees to change the academic structure of the School. The Board approved the revised committee structure in July 2017. This required a significant number of changes to the Standing Orders, which were also approved in July 2017.
Clerk to the Board of Trustees
Updated July 2017