Tuesday 1 March 2022

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The University of London’s School of Advanced study has appointed Dr Sue Onslow as interim director of the UK’s only postgraduate institution devoted to the study of the Commonwealth, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS). Currently a senior research fellow and the institute’s former deputy director, she takes up her new role this month.

Following a review on the future of Commonwealth studies at the University of London led by former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the ICWS will be repositioned to have a fresh focus on policy-oriented research, working alongside other organisations to address contemporary issues facing the Commonwealth.

Dr Onslow will bring her experience to bear on the work of the ICWS, particularly in media freedoms across the Commonwealth. She succeeds Professor Philip Murphy who has stepped down after 13 years to concentrate on his role as director of the Institute of Historical Research’s History & Policy unit.

Dr Onslow, who first joined ICWS in 2012, said she is ‘delighted to take over as interim director. I have been an active part in the ICWS’s work on challenges to media freedom since 2016 and believe there is an important role for the institute in debates on human rights across the Commonwealth. The institute’s expertise is particularly important this year, given the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June.’ 

The meeting is customarily held every two years and is the Commonwealth’s highest consultative and policymaking gathering. It was due to be held in Kigali in June 2020 but has been postponed twice due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A sought-after media commentator and expert on international history, the Commonwealth and its member countries, Dr Onslow was the lead researcher on the institute’s Oral History Project, a unique digital research resource on the history of the Commonwealth since 1965. She has written widely on British foreign policy and decolonisation, and southern Africa in the Cold War era. 

Her latest publication is the co-written biography (with Martin Plaut) Robert Mugabe (Ohio Short Histories of Africa) which reveals the complexity of the man who stamped his personality on Zimbabwe’s first four decades of independence. 

Pro vice-chancellor (research and engagement) and dean of the School of Advanced Study, Professor Jo Fox, said: 'I’m delighted that Sue has agreed to take up this post as we search for a new director of the ICWS. The ICWS is ideally positioned to speak to critical issues confronting the modern Commonwealth in uncertain and challenging times. Climate change, political instability, human rights, and press freedoms are all high on the international agenda. The institute will work with partner organisations across sectors to bring the latest research to bear on these urgent matters.’


Notes for editors

For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart, Media Communications Manager, University of London maureen.mctaggart@london.ac.uk.