Harold Hankins, 1930-2009

August 6, 2009

Harold Hankins, the engineer who steered the former University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist) through challenging times, has died.

Born on 18 October 1930, he attended Crewe Grammar School and entered the world of work as an apprentice at the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

He studied for a degree in electrical engineering at Umist night school, graduating with a first.

He took a job at the Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company, where he was soon promoted to assistant chief engineer. There, Professor Hankins was responsible for the development of the first computer visual-display system, as well as innovations in signal processing and rocket guidance. Despite his engineering achievements - which were eventually acknowledged by a Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship - he became frustrated and returned to Umist as a lecturer in 1968.

After completing a doctorate, Hankins rapidly rose from professor of communication engineering to director of the Medical Engineering Unit. In 1977, he became head of the department of electrical engineering and electronics.

Then came the decisive shift into administration. He was appointed vice-principal of Umist in 1979, acting principal in 1982 and permanent principal in 1984. This was a particularly difficult period for the institution, with the introduction of full fees for foreign students posing a major threat to its long-term viability.

In response, Professor Hankins instituted a series of cost-cutting measures while avoiding compulsory redundancies and introduced the first five-year financial plan in the British university sector. By boosting Umist's research programme, he ensured that it had a comfortable place in the top ten British universities by the time of the first research assessment exercise in 1985. And he decisively pursued plans to commercialise its research output as much as possible - an achievement reflected in a Queen's Award for Export Achievement and two Prince of Wales Awards for Innovation.

John Garside, who served as pro vice-chancellor under Hankins and later became vice-chancellor of Umist, remembers a man "very proud of the route he had taken as the country's only vice-chancellor who had once been an apprentice. He enjoyed, with a twinkle in his eye, the fact that he was now mixing with the great and the good."

Though he inherited a rather demoralised university, Professor Garside said, "he turned it round by facing up to the situation. He took it with him by a very open style of management and left it a strong research institution with great self-confidence."

Professor Hankins died of heart disease on 2 May and is survived by his wife Kathleen and three sons.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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