Knowledge Quarter #2: Louise Roberts, SOAS

Our series of interviews continues, with a visit to a University of London institution approaching its 100th year

Louise Roberts at SOAS, sheltering from the elements
Louise Roberts at SOAS, sheltering from the elements
Louise Roberts, Enterprise Manager: SOAS, University of London

Tell us a bit about your organisation.
SOAS, University of London will be 100 years old in 2016 and is a world-leading centre for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We teach more than 40 languages and our scholarship deals with civilisations from eras and regions not studied anywhere else in the UK. Our researchers tackle the most pressing issues of our time – conflict and reconciliation, democracy, development, human rights, identity, legal systems, poverty, religion. So you could say that SOAS is both a guardian of specialised knowledge and a crucial interpreter of our rapidly changing world.

What hopes do you have for the growth of the Knowledge Quarter?
We’ve always had good connections with our local community; we work with local schools, our wonderful Brunei Gallery is part of Museum Mile and we programme and fund the World Music stage for the Bloomsbury Festival. But we hope that as the Knowledge Quarter grows it will bring a much greater recognition of the collective brainpower in this part of London, and also remind people of what a special area of the city it is.

What excites you most about the new spirit in and around King’s Cross?
We are in the southernmost part of Knowledge Quarter territory, where Bloomsbury’s garden squares and elegant streets have long been celebrated – and are kept vibrant by the hordes of students. The development of fantastic new spaces extends this environment up to King’s Cross and beyond, which is great for our staff and students and can only encourage more visitors and collaborators to come to our part of the city.

Which artefact, institution or cultural space in the area do you enjoy most?
It has to be the British Museum, just a couple of minutes’ walk from SOAS. I feel really privileged to be able to pop in to such an exciting space when I have half an hour to spare and always feel uplifted when I see the glass atrium, whatever the weather.


We often hear that ‘knowledge is power’. What other word or phrase would you say knowledge is….?
Funny you should ask that, as ‘Knowledge is Power’ is the motto on the SOAS crest (which, by the way, is very unusual and includes a camel and an elephant). It can sound rather sinister though, so I prefer a more contemporary take – ‘knowledge empowers.’ Half of SOAS students are international, some from extremely poor countries. Working with these young people really brings home the value of education and the truth of this saying.

Read our main feature Just What is the Knowledge Quarter? for more info on this exciting new local initative.

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