The Rector

The primary role of the Rector is to preside at the University Court.

The Rector also chairs meetings of the General Council in absence of the Chancellor.

They work closely with students and the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA).

Debora Kayembe

Current Rector: Debora Kayembe

Debora Kayembe was called to the Congolese Bar Association in 2000, and has been a member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting from 2010-2020. In 2016 she joined the language services of the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA).

Debora served as Scottish Refugee Council board member from 2013 – 2016. She also joined the Royal Society of Edinburgh/Young Academy of Scotland representing refugee minorities, and has a seat as an expert lawyer to the RSE Working Group for Africa. In 2017 Debora founded the charity Full Options.

In August 2019, history was made at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, when Debora became the first African to have her portrait erected at the wall of the society honouring her achievements and contributions to the Scottish Society.

In July 2020, Debora launched the Freedom Walk campaign – a civil rights movement which aims to lobby and campaign on behalf of citizens by promoting social reforms, racial justice and community harmony. Debora is also petitioning to the Scottish Parliament in favour of anti-racist education in Scotland. 


Enquiries to the Rector can be made to:

Previous Rectors

The position of Rector has a long and prestigious lineage. Originally created in the 19th century by the Universities Scotland Act 1858, the role has developed over time.

The position of Rector was initially filled by eminent politicians and military figures in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Sir Winston Churchill and the Right Honourable W E Gladstone.

In recent years rectors have come a broader range of Scotland’s public and cultural life, including television presenter Muriel Gray and the first Green politician Robin Harper MSP, all of whom have had some connection with Edinburgh.

Photo gallery

Photographs of Rectors from as far back as 1920.

List of previous Rectors

  • 2021 Debora Kayembe (current)
  • 2018 Ann Henderson
  • 2015 Steve Morrison 
  • 2011 Peter McColl
  • 2009 Iain Macwhirter
  • 2006 Mark Ballard
  • 2003 Tam Dalyell MP
  • 2000 Robin Harper MSP
  • 1997 John Colquhoun
  • 1994 Dr Malcolm Macleod
  • 1991 Donnie Munro
  • 1988 Muriel Gray
  • 1985 Archie MacPherson
  • 1982 David Steel (now Sir David Steel)
  • 1979 Dr Anthony Ross
  • 1975 Magnus Magnusson
  • 1972 Dr Gordon Brown
  • 1971 Jonathan Wills
  • 1968 Kenneth Allsop
  • 1966 Malcolm Muggeridge
  • 1963 James Robertson Justice
  • 1960 Joseph Grimond
  • 1957 James Robertson Justice
  • 1954 Sir Sydney A Smith
  • 1951 Sir Alexander Fleming
  • 1948 Alastair Sim
  • 1945 Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope
  • 1939 Sir J Donald Pollock, Baronet
  • 1936 Sir Herbert John Clifford Grierson
  • 1935 Viscount Allenby
  • 1932 General Sir Ian Hamilton
  • 1929 The Rt Hon. Sir Winston Churchill
  • 1926 The Rt Hon. Sir John Gilmour
  • 1923 The Rt Hon. Stanley Baldwin
  • 1920 The Rt Hon. David Lloyd George
  • 1917 Earl Beatty
  • 1914 Earl Kitchener of Khartoum
  • 1911 The Earl of Minto
  • 1908 The Rt Hon. Geo. Wyndham
  • 1905 The Rt Hon. Richard Burdon Haldane
  • 1902 Sir Robert Bannatyne Finlay
  • 1899 The Marquess of Dufferin & Ava
  • 1896 Lord Balfour of Burleigh
  • 1893 The Rt Hon. J P B Robertson
  • 1890 The Rt Hon. G J Goschen
  • 1887 The Marquess of Lothian
  • 1883 Earl of Iddlesleigh
  • 1880 Earl of Rosebery
  • 1877 The Marquess of Hartington
  • 1874 Earl of Derby
  • 1871 Sir W Stirling Maxwell
  • 1868 Lord Moncrieff
  • 1865 Thomas Carlyle
  • 1859 The Rt Hon. W E Gladstone

Related links

Membership of University Court