An affecting presence

February 19, 2015

Throughout his career, Sir David Watson sought to develop an understanding of higher education through research. He strongly supported the idea that higher education is a social good. As president of the Society for Research into Higher Education, David used his annual address to conference (always the best attended keynote) to explore the relationship between higher education and society in ways that urged members of the research community to search for evidence on how current policies and practices affect not only students and staff but also society in general.

David was a staunch supporter of the work of the SRHE and was the society’s president from 2005 to 2012, standing down at his own insistence, as was typical of him, otherwise we would never have let him go. He felt that his seven years as president (two more than he signed up for) were, in his own words, “enough from me”.

He was wrong, of course, as there could never be enough of what David had to say, the way that he said it and the breadth of knowledge, understanding, weight of compassion and sheer humanity that imbued everything he said and wrote about higher education.

He is, and always will be, one of the very finest people I have ever met.

His legacy in terms of his written work will remain with us. What his colleagues will remember most is the friendship and support he gave to everyone, the way he touched so many lives and supported so many careers. He believed absolutely in collegiality within the academy, and the only times I ever saw him less than an ocean of calm and kindness was when he was faced with some incidents of petty unpleasantness or spite between academic colleagues. This really distressed him.

We will not see his like again.

Helen Perkins
Director, Society for Research into Higher Education

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