Birmingham v-c Sir David Eastwood announces retirement

Historian has held a series of senior roles across UK sector but also attracted criticism from grassroots staff over pay and pensions

January 12, 2021

The vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Sir David Eastwood, has announced that he is to retire at the end of 2021.

The decision draws to a close a career that has seen Sir David hold several senior roles across the UK higher education sector. He has led Birmingham since 2009, and before that he was chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England for three years.

Sir David was vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia between 2002 and 2006 and, prior to that, was chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Board – the forerunner of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

During his time at Birmingham, Sir David held senior roles at several sector groups, including chairing the Russell Group, Universitas 21, Ucas and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). He was a member of the Browne review, which ultimately led to the tripling of tuition fees in England to £9,000 in 2012.

It was at USS, overseeing UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme for five years until last August, that Sir David became a lightning rod for criticism from academics and unions during several rounds of industrial action over reforms to contributions and benefits.

Sir David also faced criticism over his remuneration, which was consistently one of the highest in the UK and totalled £450,000 in 2018-19.

But in a message to Birmingham staff announcing his retirement, Sir David said that he was “deeply proud of what we have achieved as a university community over the last 12 years”.

“I am confident that, together, we have taken the university to a better place – better for our students and for our research – and that we have and are making an enduring difference to our city, our region, and indeed in the wider world,” Sir David said.

Birmingham said that an international search for a new vice-chancellor would begin immediately.

Mervyn Walker, chair of the university’s council, hailed Sir David as a “truly exceptional vice-chancellor”.

“Under his leadership the university has been transformed into a leading UK and global institution. We have made huge progress in research and teaching, and we have made major investments in our future, enabled by sound financial stewardship,” Mr Walker said.

“We have benefited not only from David’s inspirational leadership within the university, but also from his stature, experience and influence in the higher education sector, and I am delighted that we will continue to benefit from David’s leadership for the whole of this year.”

Sir David is a historian who has published widely on the history of the British state, the history of ideas and electoral politics.

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