Edwin Kerr, 1926-2012

June 28, 2012

A man who played a central role in the development of polytechnics and colleges into the thriving institutions that became post-1992 universities has died.

Edwin Kerr was born on 1 July 1926 and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen's University Belfast, where he stayed on for a PhD and then his first academic appointment as an assistant lecturer in mathematics (1948-52). This was followed by positions as lecturer in maths at what are now Aston University (1952-55) and the University of Manchester (1956-58).

More senior roles followed when Dr Kerr became head of the maths department at what is now the University of Salford (1958-66) and principal of Paisley College of Technology (1966-72), now part of the University of the West of Scotland.

However, his most influential role was as chief executive of the Council for National Academic Awards (1972-86), the body that awarded degrees in polytechnics, so-called "central institutions" and colleges of higher education from 1965 to 1992.

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, recalled Dr Kerr as "a very clear thinking, logical person" who was "largely responsible for establishing the CNAA's reputation for rigour and competence and thus did as much as anyone to help develop the polytechnics and colleges to the point where the abolition of the binary line became inevitable".

Although "he perhaps kept the bureaucracy going a bit longer than was necessary", he added, it was important to keep in mind "the huge diversity of institutions with which the CNAA had to deal, and the fact that critics were always ready to pounce, saying that standards were not as high as in the universities".

"Many of the things which we take for granted today, such as annual course monitoring, were pioneered by the CNAA. It was also very innovatory in areas [such as] credit accumulation and transfer," Professor Brown said.

Awarded the CBE in 1986, Dr Kerr continued as chairman of the Examination Board for Financial Planning (1987-89), chief executive of the College for Financial Planning (1988-96) and chairman of the Institute of Healthcare Development's vocational and academic board (1996-99).

In 1992, when the CNAA was wound up and its responsibilities were handed over to The Open University, Dr Kerr took on consultancy work at Regent's College (where he was founding director of Regent's Business School from 1997 to 2001), the Singapore Institute of Management and other institutions.

Dr Kerr died of cancer on 12 May and is survived by his wife Gertrude and three children.


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