Norman Gibson, 1931-2014

A towering figure in Northern Irish higher education, notable for his “courage, integrity and independence of mind”, has died

August 7, 2014

Norman Gibson was born in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, on 13 December 1931 and studied at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating with a first in economics in 1953. He went on to a PhD at Queen’s (1959), where he was appointed assistant lecturer in 1956 and – after a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship at the University of Chicago (1958-59) – became lecturer in 1959.

Moving to England in 1962 as lecturer (and then senior lecturer) in economics at the University of Manchester, Professor Gibson returned to Northern Ireland as founding professor of economics at the New University of Ulster in 1968. He proved effective in developing the syllabus but became unhappy when the “direct rule” government announced plans to merge the NUU with Ulster Polytechnic to create what in 1984 became the University of Ulster.

Although Professor Gibson regarded this as an unacceptable assault upon the NUU’s autonomy, he joined forces with Derek Birley, rector of the polytechnic, to develop their vision of an institution catering to far more students from the region. As pro vice-chancellor for academic planning, he expanded numbers at the Magee campus from 200 to more than 2,000 and doubled numbers at Coleraine to more than 4,000. He also spearheaded a research programme that saw Ulster become one of only 20 UK universities to have a 5*-rated area in the 1996 research assessment exercise.

After initially focusing on banking and finance, Professor Gibson gradually shifted his research interests towards work that could benefit the local community. He organised a 1974 conference on the economics of various political alternatives for ending violence in Northern Ireland; and he carried out a study of the bread industry and another – with John Spencer, professor emeritus of economics at Queen’s University Belfast – on the agriculture livestock sector. They also edited Economic Activity in Ireland (1977), a pioneering attempt to examine the interdependence of the economies of the two parts of Ireland.

Upon retirement from Ulster in 1996, Professor Gibson remained active, writing articles on topics such as university governance. Gerry McKenna, former vice-chancellor at the university, described him as “an unwavering advocate of a pluralist Ireland” who would be “remembered for his courage, integrity and independence of mind”.

Professor Gibson died from complications following a brain haemorrhage on 8 July and is survived by his wife Faith, a daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Retired academics calculating moves while playing bowls

Lincoln Allison, Eric Thomas and Richard Larschan reflect on the ‘next phase’ of the scholarly life