SOAS director to be first black Oxford college head

Baroness Amos leaves London institution after issuing warning about its finances

August 5, 2019
Baroness Amos United Nations official black woman vice-chancellor
Source: SOAS
Soas director Baroness Amos, a former Cabinet minister and diplomat, was the first black vice-chancellor of a UK university

The director of SOAS University of London, Baroness Amos, will step down at the end of her five-year term to become master of University College, Oxford.

The Labour peer and former minister, who joined SOAS in 2015, will become the first black head of an Oxford college when she succeeds Sir Ivor Crewe in August 2020.

Baroness Amos’ departure comes just months after Times Higher Education revealed how she had warned that without action the institution would “exhaust [its] cash reserves” within two years then continue to “haemorrhage cash”, going £19 million into the red.

The warning, written for a November 2018 board meeting, was issued after SOAS’ undergraduate intake fell by 37 per cent in two years, from 1,170 in 2016 to 735 in 2018.

But SOAS, which describes itself as the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, said that it had taken “concerted action” to turn the situation around since then.

Marie Staunton, chair of SOAS’ board of trustees, said that the institution’s undergraduate acceptances were up by 20 per cent this year, and that it was projecting a 3 per cent surplus for 2022-23.

Ms Staunton said that Baroness Amos had overseen “significant and important changes at SOAS” and that the institution would “miss her greatly”.

“Valerie joined SOAS at a time of challenge for the school and, with the senior leadership team, has taken strategic action to address the matter of SOAS’s sustainability through implementation of the academic strategy, investment in new international initiatives and improving the academic and overall experience for our students,” Ms Staunton said.

“At a challenging time for higher education, through her public engagements in the UK and overseas, Valerie has championed SOAS as a voice for progressive HE, reaffirming SOAS values, giving us a distinctive place in the world academic community.”

SOAS board papers revealed that the English regulator, the Office for Students, had imposed “enhanced monitoring” on the institution “due to its weak operating cash flow”. The institution’s trustees discussed “how they would have assurance that the school was sustainable for the next three years”.

During Baroness Amos’ tenure, cuts to library services at SOAS have also attracted criticism, and the institution has also faced calls to address concerns over its PhD supervision standards.

Prior to joining SOAS, Baroness Amos served as under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations from 2010 to 2015. Between 2003 and 2007, she sat in the cabinet as secretary of state for international development and leader of the House of Lords.

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Reader's comments (1)

So she leaves for a great job, having presided over a declining institution and letting others take the fall. Typical.