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Sir Graeme Davies

Honorary Doctorate of Letters


Sir Graeme Davies is the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of London. He is an engineer, educator and policy maker of distinction.

Graeme was born in New Zealand and educated at Mount Alber Grammar School, Auckland and the University of Auckland where he read Aeronautical Engineering, and then materials science for his PhD. He has described materials science as a multi-faceted discipline involving Maths, Physics, Chemistry and also new areas such as Crystallography, all of which taught him to think broadly, absorb multiple inputs and synthesise them – experience invaluable in higher education management.

He wasn't just a bright engineer. While studying hard for his first in finals, he also got a New Zealand Universities "Blue" for football. He has always been a very keen follower of sport and has been prudent in his roots – a highly appropriate mixture of Scottish and Welsh as well as New Zealand.

In 1962, he arrived in the UK to undertake research in metallurgy and materials science at Cambridge. He then took up a lectureship and a Fellowship at St Catherine's College, which he held for 13 years before being appointed to a chair in the University of Sheffield. Nine years later in 1986, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool a post he held until 1991 when he took a rather different shift in career to become Chief Executive of the Universities Funding Council.

A year later, as a result of the Education Act of 1992, the two sectors in higher education, polytechnics and universities merged and Sir Graeme was the first chief executive of the new joint funding council, the Higher Education Funding Council. HEFCE had to deal with major issues of transitional funding given the very different arrangements in the two sectors. He gained the reputation of being thoroughly professional but supportive, firm but diplomatic, and totally reassuring.

Sir Graeme then launched a range of new initiatives for the Funding Council, from teaching to research, and with his strong international background encouraged the sector to understand and prepare itself for the globalisation of developing higher education.

After four successful years in the post, Sir Graeme returned to mainstream university management when he accepted the post of Principal and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Glasgow. During his tenure, there were momentous political changes in Scotland, symbolised by the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the higher education system which was entering uncertain territory. Again his diplomatic skills were invaluable and he helped forge a new approach to partnership and engagement to meet the new challenges.

Sir Graeme acquired a campus for Glasgow at Crichton in Dumfries, the first ever venture by the university outside the city environs and he merged with a local Catholic teacher training. He developed a research partnership with the neighbouring Strathclyde University, the Synergy agreement, thus reversing decades of what might be called tension between the two and oversaw a successful joint bid with Edinburgh University to win the UK National e-Science Centre. He also spearheaded the development of a number of major biomedical buildings, one of which is now named after him. He also successfully related the university to its city and region, through such activities as his membership of the Board of Scottish Enterprise Glasgow and Chairman of the Glasgow Science Centre and his membership of Glasgow School of Art's board.

Again, his international interests became clear and he was involved in the foundation of Universitas 21, the global alliance of research-led universities, as well as the Association of Commonwealth Universities where he has been very active. However, he also deepened his local roots in Glasgow when he and his wife Florence, also a New Zealander, established their home near Biggar in Lanarkshire.

In 2003, after 41 years in the sector, Sir Graeme became Vice-Chancellor of the University of London. The key to his approach has been a genuine commitment to collaboration. He has been a stalwart supporter of London Higher, and an advocate of broader partnership between the universities of London as a whole. But he has also engaged with the wider stakeholder community – he has served on the Board of London First and championed London's higher education in the wider world as he has done wherever he has served.

Sir Graeme has, of course, been widely recognised for his work as a distinguished leader in higher education. Among his many roles, he has been chairman of the Universities Superannuation Scheme and chair of the Central Laboratories of the Research Councils and of HERO, the research portal. He has chaired the DfES Higher Education Research forum and has recently, for example, conducted a wide ranging review of the University of Ulster. He is a board member of the Higher Education Policy Institute. He has recently been appointed to Chair the Delivery Partnership which will oversee the new admissions system for universities.

His academic achievements have gained widespread recognition and he has held Visiting Professorships in many countries (New Zealand, Brazil, China, Argentina, South Africa, Israel and India). He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow as well as Trinity College of Music. He holds Honorary Degrees from seven universities from across the sector including his alma mater, Auckland, where he was described as "a real inspiration to all New Zealanders". He is also a Freeman of the City of London and a Freeman and Burgess Holder of the City of Glasgow. In 1996 he was knighted.

Throughout his career and in his achievements, Sir Graeme has epitomised values which are cherished at London South Bank University. He has been at the forefront of engineering education and an advocate of wider participation in it. He has pursued both a regional agenda and an international aspiration for the institutions he has led, recognising that these are not mutually exclusive but offer powerful complementaries. Above all he has sought to break down barriers between institutions and shown that whatever part of the sector he works in, recognises that certain values and aspirations are common and need to be pursued collaboratively.

For these reasons, and for his great contribution to the higher education sector in so many ways, Sir Graeme Davies was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris causa, from London South Bank University.

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