Ex-refugee lawyer becomes first person of colour to be named rector of Edinburgh University since role was created in 1858
- Debora Kayembe fled Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004 and came to UK
- Mother-of-two, who has lived in Scotland since 2011, will take up role on March 1
- Two other women have held the post – TV presenter Muriel Gray and outgoing rector Ann Henderson; among other early incumbents was Winston Churchill
- Ms Kayembe: ‘I am delighted to be elected as the first person of colour to hold the position… I’m fully aware of the importance of my role at such a critical time’
A former refugee has been named as the new rector of Edinburgh University – making her the first person of colour to take up the role since it was created in 1858.
Human rights lawyer Debora Kayembe came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has been living in Scotland since 2011.
Ms Kayembe, who fled her home country in 2004 for her own safety, will take up the role on March 1.
The mother-of-two will be just the third woman to hold the position, following in the footsteps of TV presenter Muriel Gray and outgoing rector Ann Henderson.
Former refugee Debora Kayembe (above) has been named as the new rector of Edinburgh University – making her the first person of colour to take up the role since it was created in 1858. She came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004 and has been living in Scotland since 2011
When Ms Kayembe arrived in the UK as a refugee, she was placed in northern England – but even though she had qualified in her homeland as a lawyer, she was rejected by the English bar.
She instead applied to the Law Society in Scotland and was accepted.
Ms Kayembe has served on the board of the Scottish Refugee Council and is a member of the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Court Bar Association.
In 2019, her portrait was hung on the wall of the Royal Society of Edinburgh – the first African to receive this honour – for her achievements and contributions.
Ms Kayembe, who is in her mid-forties, said: ‘I am delighted and deeply honoured to be elected as the first person of colour to hold the position of rector of the University of Edinburgh.
‘I am fully aware of the importance of my role at such a critical time.
The mother-of-two will be just the third woman to hold the position at the University of Edinburgh (pictured), following in the footsteps of TV presenter Muriel Gray and outgoing rector Ann Henderson. Ms Kayembe will take up the role on March 1
‘We are facing so many challenges: from the Covid-19 pandemic to the battles for racial justice and the reckoning from the past in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
‘Respect for the values of humanity and kindness lies at the heart of all my work and I look forward to working with staff, students, and the whole university community, to ensure that everyone is valued.’
University of Edinburgh principal and vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson said: ‘I am delighted to welcome Ms Kayembe to the University of Edinburgh.
‘The position of rector has a long and prestigious lineage, with rectors coming from a broad range of public and cultural life.
‘I very much look forward to working with our new rector as we navigate our way through the Covid-19 pandemic and build a bright future for the entire University community.’
From Winston Churchill to broadcaster Muriel Gray: The role of rector at Edinburgh University
The main role of the rector is to preside at the University Court, which is the university’s governing body.
They also chair meetings of the General Council in absence of the Chancellor and work closely with students and the Students’ Association.
The position of rector at the University of Edinburgh was originally created in the 19th century by the Universities Scotland Act 1858.
The position of rector at the University of Edinburgh was originally created in the 19th century by the Universities Scotland Act 1858. One of its early incumbents was Winston Churchill (left) and, more recently, broadcaster Muriel Gray (right)
The role was initially filled by eminent politicians and military figures – among them, former prime ministers Winston Churchill and William Gladstone.
More recently, the rectors have come from a wider range of Scotland’s public and cultural life, including TV presenter Muriel Gray, and the first Green politician Robin Harper MSP – each with some form of connection to Edinburgh.
Debora Kayembe’s appointment makes her the 54th person to hold the role.
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