High hopes

Amnesty International's Irene Khan aims to improve higher education access in Manchester as Salford's new chancellor

July 30, 2009

A long-time champion of human rights has joined the University of Salford as chancellor.

Irene Khan, who has been secretary-general of Amnesty International since 2001, joins the institution shortly before the arrival of Martin Hall, the incoming vice-chancellor who is transferring from the University of Cape Town. Professor Hall was active in the struggle against apartheid during his 25-year career in South Africa.

"Martin is eager to ensure that the university is able to contribute to building a racially harmonised community, and this is of importance to me, too," Dr Khan said.

As a graduate of the University of Manchester, Dr Khan said she was aware of the challenges that face the community in the Greater Manchester area. She said she was conscious of the fact that many local children do not aspire to go to university, and noted that a key challenge for Salford was to embed itself within the area.

"By engaging the local community and showing them that we are an enterprising university, it will hopefully inspire children to carry on into higher education and transform the region," she said.

In her role with Amnesty International, Dr Khan has led missions to areas in crisis around the world, including Pakistan and Sudan. She has also driven campaigns to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and end human rights abuses associated with the war against terrorism.

She said that what had touched her the most on her travels, however, were the "forgotten prisoners": men, women and children who are living in poverty and facing prejudice and violence on a daily basis.

She pointed to the example of the suffering of women in war zones such as Darfur and Eastern Congo, situations that go largely unreported, and she stressed the need for outside interest and publicity in bringing about change.

Commending Salford for its provision of a postgraduate course in human rights and ethics, she said she hoped that by speaking about her experiences she could encourage students to "stand up and challenge social problems".

As the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to lead Amnesty International, Dr Khan said she felt "very privileged", and was honoured to have been offered the role at Salford. Her aim, she said, was to inspire the next generation of students to "make a difference".

"As a university, we have a responsibility to educate students in order for these social problems to be addressed," she said.

Dr Khan succeeds Sir Martin Harris, who has been chancellor of the University of Salford for five years.

neha.popat@tsleducation.com.

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