SOAS University of London

Records retention and disposal at SOAS

An essential part of good records management is ensuring that records, as important snap-shots of our decision-making and activities, are retained only for as long as they have value to the organisation, and that this decision-making process is documented.

At SOAS, the value of a piece of information as a ‘record’ is determined by a range of factors including business needs, legal requirements, risk management, and historical or cultural significance - in line with best practice in the records management and HE sectors.

It is equally important that, at the end of their retention (and if they are not required for any outstanding business) records are disposed of in line with formal documented instructions.

The  SOAS Retention Schedule (pdf; 621kb)  has been developed to help us achieve this. It focuses on the major series of the School's records: those which SOAS generates in large quantities, which in past years have been predominantly in paper format, but which are now largely created and stored in digital formats.

The schedule aims to provide a stable classification scheme for SOAS records which is unaffected by structural changes, allowing staff to easily identify the records for which they are responsible, and to carry out the relevant retention and disposal instruction. It draws on existing retention practices, discussions with departments, and the recommendations in the Records Retention Guide (revised 2019) for UK HE institutions developed by JISC.

Updates to the Retention Schedule

The schedule was first approved by the Executive Board in December 2015, with subsequent minor revisions to be approved by the Secretary.

Under normal circumstances, the schedule should be reviewed and updated every three years.

The current retention schedule was last updated in 2017 following information surveys carried out across all administrative and academic departments, and a comprehensive review is currently underway to bring it up to date and in line with organizational requirements and the revised JISC Guide published.

Detailed guidance for staff on how to use and search the retention schedule, to carry out records destruction or transfer, and to send records to our offsite storage facility is available on MySOAS.

Further advice and guidance around the retention schedule and disposing of records appropriately is available from the Corporate Records Manager and Archivist: records-management@soas.ac.uk.

SOAS Offsite Records Storage

Hard copy records may be transferred to secure off-site storage whilst they wait out their retention period, and the Records Manager and Archivist will get in touch with departments on an annual basis who have records due for review.

There are separate procedures for records stored off site. For more information about the disposal of off-site records, please see the guidance on records transfers on MySOAS.

Disposal of records

Records disposal at SOAS is a formal process, governed by the Records Management Policy, for which staff are advised to set aside time at least once a year. Full guidance on our disposal process is available to staff on MySOAS.

It is most important to be aware that the term ‘disposal’ in this context refers not just to the physical destruction of records that have reached the end of their retention period (as given in the SOAS Records Retention Schedule) – but to the way in which ALL records listed in the retention schedule are handled at this point in their lifecycle.

Key types of ‘Disposal action’ in the Retention Schedule

Whilst it is the case that most records will have a ‘Disposal Action’ of ‘Destroy/Delete at end of retention period’, or something similar to this, a smaller proportion of records – potentially some of the most valuable for their value as evidence of our activities – will have a Disposal Action of ‘Transfer to…’. Typically, this means that the record has been identified as being of enough significance to be passed to the School Archivist for a formal appraisal of its historical value. This is the process the Records Manager and Archivist uses to determine whether it should be formally accepted into the School’s Corporate Archive for permanent preservation.

A record may also have a Disposal Action of ‘Review…’ which means that it must be looked at again by the business area before a decision is taken on its final disposal – which can be either destruction, transfer to archive, or an extension of the retention period, if the record is still required.

Becoming familiar with the retention schedule for your specific area, and with our guidance on MySOAS, will make it much easier to carry out disposal correctly and securely.

Cut out the ROT

Develop the habit of routinely clearing out Routine, Obsolete and Trivial items, and make the regular disposal process easier by giving yourself less to work through.

Here are some examples of ROT, which can be destroyed when you no longer require them for your work:

  • Early drafts, file versions and unwanted reference material
  • Emails arranging meetings
  • Announcements and notices of events or notifications of acceptance or apologies for a meeting
  • Routine requests for information e.g. travel directions or prospectuses
  • Requests for and confirmation of reservations for internal services where no internal charges are made e.g. meeting rooms
  • Copies of documents that were sent to you for information.
  • Printouts of electronically generated documents such as emails or working copies of draft documents etc. made of personal purposes.
  • External publications used for reference, such as HEFCE guides.
  • Published or reference materials received from other parts of the institution or from vendors or other external organisations which require no action and are not needed for record purposes e.g. trade magazines, vendor catalogues, flyers, newsletters
  • In-house publications that are obsolete or superseded such as prospectuses, magazines and newsletters unless transferred to the Library or Special Collections. Information copies of materials such as reports and committee papers. You can check on the retention schedule to find out which department is the primary record owner. If it is not your department, then you can destroy these once you no longer need them for reference. If you are unsure, please contact the Records Manager and Archivist via email at records-management@soas.ac.uk.


Page last updated: April 2021