Maxwell Irvine arrived as vice-chancellor of Birmingham University bemoaning the lack of regional collaboration between institutions in the West Midlands.
With rumours of a merger between Birmingham and Aston, this looks set to change by the time Irvine, recently made deputy lieutenant of the West Midlands, retires in September 2001.
But as a member of the Joint Information Systems Committee and chairman of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, he also has a global view.
Irvine was educated at Heriot's School, Edinburgh, before taking a BSc in mathematical physics at Edinburgh University. He studied for an MSc at the University of Michigan and then for his PhD at the University of Manchester, where he began lecturing in 1964. He stayed there for years, with a spell at Cornell University, becoming professor of physics and dean of science.
In 1991, he became principal and vice-chancellor of Aberdeen University, where he increased student numbers from 7,000 to 10,000 before moving to Birmingham.
He served on the board of the British Council's Scottish Committee and Committee of Scottish University Principals, where he expressed doubts about the idea of a university for the Highlands and Islands.
Unwell for the past few months, he is said to care deeply about the welfare of people at the university. But he sparked anger from staff during last year's pay dispute, after he received a 10.6 per cent pay rise. He also infuriated some by his early support of fees and top-up fees, saying a uniform fee may not be the most sensible way to achieve diversity.
Often outspoken, he declared himself "not comfortable" with the elevation of Committee of Vive-Chancellors and Principals chief executive Diana Warwick to the House of Lords last year and has been critical of changes proposed by the Quality Assurance Agency.
Among his interests is a collection of whisky.
People is edited by Harriet Swain and researched by Lynne Williams.
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