Amos to become first black Oxford college head

After announcing her departure from Soas next year, Valerie Amos will become head of University College, Oxford

Valerie Amos has been announced as the first black person to head an Oxford college.

The director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) will step down after five years and take up her new post as master of University College, Oxford (Univ) in August 2020.

Lady Amos said: “Univ has been engaged in opening up access and opportunity through its Opportunity Programme and I also look forward to making a contribution to that work.”


Read more: BAME figures in league tables would help universities – Amos


There have been concerns about Soas’ finances in recent years. The Times published extracts of a report by Amos for the board of trustees in which she wrote: “Should no further action be taken to improve our cash flow we are projected to exhaust our cash reserves during 2020-21, ending the year £1.9m overdrawn, and are expected to continue to haemorrhage cash in the years thereafter.”

Soas finances are healthy, with a rising incoming line and a projected surplus of over 3% in 2022-23
– Mary Staunton, chair of Soas board of trustees

Marie Staunton, chair of the Soas board of trustees refuted the concerns made in The Times article. She said: “Soas finances are healthy, with a rising incoming line and a projected surplus of over 3% in 2022-23. Undergraduate student acceptances are up by 20% this year. Our director is staying for an agreed five-year term, before taking up the headship of an Oxford college in summer 2020.”

“The Soas board is transparent in its accounts and forecasts but this has led to the wrong inferences being drawn. Financial forecasts which you reference were ones from past years which illustrated what might happen if we didn’t successfully take action.

“Since then, through a combination of growing our income – providing attractive courses for students here and with partners overseas, through more innovative online programmes, and through reducing our spending by reorganising some of our staffing structures, we are forecasting that Soas will balance its finances well in the coming years.”

Staunton said a successor would be appointed in July 2020.

Amos said of her departure: “In the year ahead, I and the senior team will continue to focus on implementing the reforms which will help Soas continue to thrive.”

The peer and former cabinet minister under Tony Blair recently chaired a joint report for Universities UK (UUK) and National Union of Students (NUS) into the BAME attainment gap and called upon providers to “accelerate efforts”. A fresh review, to be chaired by Amos, is due in Summer 2020.


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