Gordon Higginson, 1929-2011

November 24, 2011

An academic with "unfailing warmth and courtesy", Gordon Higginson's nine-year tenure as vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton left a legacy that is still evident throughout the institution's campuses.

Born in 1929, Professor Higginson studied engineering at the University of Leeds and, after a brief period working for the Ministry of Supply, became a lecturer there in 1953.

He took up a chair in civil engineering in Durham in 1965 and remained at the institution for two decades. During that time, he was a member of the University Grants Committee's Physical Sciences Sub-committee.

In 1985, Professor Higginson became vice-chancellor at Southampton. Present vice-chancellor Don Nutbeam, who studied for a doctorate at Southampton during Professor Higginson's tenure, said that Professor Higginson's "wise investments" in education and research facilities helped to build the university into what it is today. "He made a major contribution to Southampton's success, guiding the university through what were very difficult times for the whole university sector," Professor Nutbeam said.

Bernard Naylor, the university's librarian in the 1980s and 1990s, said that Professor Higginson's time as vice-chancellor was distinct because of his affable nature. "Gordon was at ease with people at all levels of the university," he remembered. "All were treated with the same unfailing warmth and courtesy, and all were given the feeling that their efforts were valued."

Mr Naylor added that Professor Higginson was active socially on campus and said that "it was not difficult to get him to join an outing to a local jazz concert.

"Notwithstanding his own professional expertise, Gordon retained a strong interest in the wider canvas and made clear his belief that one of the major purposes of the creation of wealth through technical advances was to facilitate enjoyment of the creative arts," he said.

Outside Southampton, Professor Higginson was a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and served as chair of the engineering board of the Science and Engineering Research Council during the 1990s. He was also a member of the planning committee that oversaw the establishment of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Professor Higginson was the author of the 1988 Higginson Report on education for 16-18 year olds. The report suggested that the curriculum should be broadened in a similar fashion to that of the French Baccalaureat, but was rejected by the Conservative government.

He was recognised for his achievements with a knighthood in the New Year's Honours of 1992.

Professor Higginson died in his sleep on 5 November. He is survived by his five children.


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