Wits v-c Adam Habib to be next SOAS director

South African political geographer to succeed Baroness Amos in January 2021

February 18, 2020
Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand

Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, has been appointed director of SOAS University of London.

Professor Habib, who has led the Johannesburg institution since 2013, will step down from his current role in December and join SOAS in January 2021. He will succeed Baroness Amos, who will become master of University College, Oxford, in August this year.

He will face formidable challenges at SOAS, which describes itself as the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Last month the institution introduced restrictions on academic research leave, in a bid to save spending on temporary replacement staff.

In May 2019, Times Higher Education reported that the school’s director, Baroness Amos, had told trustees that the Bloomsbury institution would “exhaust [its] cash reserves” by 2021-22 unless it took action. It returned a £1.2 million deficit in its 2017-18 accounts.

Last August, SOAS said that acceptances of new undergraduates had fallen by 8 per cent over the past two years, but claimed that its “finances are healthy” with a projected surplus of 3 per cent in 2022-23.

But Professor Habib, a professor of political geography who was previously deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, is no stranger to formidable challenges. His tenure at Wits has seen him wrestle with nationwide protests including the Rhodes Must Fall campus decolonisation movement, the Fees Must Fall campaign against tuition fees, and anger over enduring racial inequalities in South African higher education.

Professor Habib said that it was “a real pleasure” to accept the SOAS job. “I have for the last two decades dedicated myself to building universities that address inequality and enable inclusion,” he said.

“This commitment dovetails with the mandate of SOAS and I hope to work with the entire university community – academic and professional staff and students – to continue this mandate and to consolidate the school’s role as an institutional facilitator that reimagines partnerships with institutions in the South and thereby addresses inequalities in global higher education.”

Under Professor Habib, Wits has increased its student numbers by a fifth to 37,500, doubled its research output, and increased its income by more than 50 per cent.

Marie Staunton, chair of SOAS’ board of trustees, described Professor Habib as “the outstanding candidate” to succeed Baroness Amos.

“His record of leadership in South Africa, his academic pedigree, his outspoken commitment to diversity and equality, his willingness to challenge received wisdom across society, his commitment to engagement with the student community and his vision on key issues such as decolonisation, make him a superb fit for SOAS and the values we share,” she said.

SOAS said that Professor Habib would be paid the same as Baroness Amos. In 2017-18 she received a basic salary of £234,099, plus pension contributions of £33,441 – a total of £267,540.

In a THE interview published earlier this month, Professor Habib warned that Western universities’ efforts to recruit students from developing countries had “weakened” the progress of their home nations. Institutions that claimed they were training people to go back home to their home countries were “lying”, he claimed.


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