In the news: Les Ebdon

May 2, 2003

Les Ebdon has enjoyed a distinguished career as an internationally acclaimed research chemist. Over the past 30 years, the Plymouth University deputy vice-chancellor has brought in more than £2.6 million in research funding - £1.4 million of it since 1996. He is now working for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs looking for soil sensors for nitrogen availability.

But Professor Ebdon's greatest challenge may be yet to come.

This week, Luton University announced that he would take over from Dai John as its vice-chancellor. Dr John will retire this autumn on his 60th birthday, a few months before the end of his five-year contract.

Dr John presided over a period of radical and often controversial change at Luton. The university suffered student recruitment problems - it fell 10 per cent short of its target for 2001 - and faced cuts to its funding council budget as a result. The university's strategy for recovery involved sweeping cuts to the teaching of traditional academic disciplines such as English, history and politics, replacing them with a suite of vocational courses to attract students.

Luton's focus on teaching will be in stark contrast to Professor Ebdon's present university environment. Plymouth is ranked the third highest post-1992 university in The THES research assessment exercise table. And its vice-chancellor, Roland Levinsky, previously head of the 5* Institute of Child Health in London has ambitious plans to shift the university into the top quarter of research universities. Luton focuses on teaching, receiving one of the lowest funding council research allocations.

Professor Ebdon joined Plymouth in 1981, when it was a polytechnic and he was a reader in analytical chemistry. He was instrumental in helping the institution evolve into a university.

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