Baroness Amos to lead Soas

The former Cabinet minister and diplomat will be the first black woman to lead a UK university

June 29, 2015
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

A senior United Nations official and former Cabinet minister is to take charge at Soas, University of London.

Valerie Amos, who was the UN’s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator for the past five years, will become the ninth director of the Bloomsbury institution in September.

Baroness Amos – who is the first black woman to take charge at a UK university – succeeds Paul Webley, who is retiring owing to poor health.

Lady Amos, who was appointed a life peer by Labour in 1997, has held several senior roles in local government and was chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission between 1989 and 1994.

After working as an adviser to the Mandela government in South Africa and being appointed to the House of Lords, she became the first black women to sit in the British Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development in 2003, replacing Clare Short.

She later served as leader of the House of Lords and UK High Commissioner to Australia before joining the UN.

Lady Amos, who born in Guyana and educated in London, said she was “honoured” to join Soas just a few months before the start of its centenary year.

“Soas is a special institution with global recognition for its research and teaching on Asia, Africa and the Middle East, bringing different perspectives to scholarship,” she said.

She added that Soas was “uniquely placed to inform and shape current thinking about the religious, political, cultural, security and economic challenges of our world”, which were “issues which need to be addressed to manage growing complexity and the contradictions of greater global connectivity and greater fragmentation”.

Tim Miller, chair of Soas’ governing body, said Lady Amos was a “major figure on the international stage”.

“Like Soas, she is renowned for formidable intellect, international outlook, cultural fluency and engagement with contemporary issues,” he said, adding that she “brings impressive experience of operational and strategic management to the role”.

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