John Woolhouse, 1931-2008

John Woolhouse was an academic who pioneered links between education and industry long before their current vogue.

April 3, 2008

He had a long and varied career, holding senior posts not only in academia but also in industry, as director of training at Rolls-Royce, and in government, as director of the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, a ten-year programme to overhaul 14-18 education.

In 1988, he joined the University of Warwick and set up the Centre for Education and Industry, where he stayed for a decade until his retirement.

Prue Huddleston, his successor as director of the CEI, said he had been an "inspiration" and a pioneer of modern higher education trends, who was able to "tread the divide" between education and industry. "He was very well connected with some of the big blue-chip companies and worked with the likes of BP, the Post Office and Esso to develop their educational policies," she said.

"Now it has come full circle and everyone's talking about the importance of this sort of stuff, but he was saying it 20 years ago."

In another prescient piece of work at the CEI, he outlined the potential for reform of 14-19 education and training, and he demonstrated his forward thinking in other ways too.

Professor Huddleston recalled being interviewed for her first job at the CEI by a panel that included Professor Woolhouse and an "elderly noble lord" who doubted her abilities. "As the interrogation progressed, the odds of success seemed to be getting worse," she recalled.

"When the noble lord asked how I thought that I, as a mother of two young children, and with a range of extra-curricular interests ... could possibly cope with the job in question, I threw all caution to the wind.

"I suggested that I did not think he should ask such a question ... and that I was not in the habit of applying for jobs that I didn't think I could do. Silence fell, eyes were averted - John looked up and smiled."

She got the job, and went on to work with Professor Woolhouse for the next ten years. "The thing I remember is that he used to say, 'When you get up in the morning you should ask yourself, is it going to be a fun day? If it isn't going to be fun, don't do it.'

"He was hugely optimistic - it was serious work, but with him it was always fun ... his whole approach was that anything was possible," Professor Huddleston said.

Professor Woolhouse died at his home aged 76 on 31 January, and is survived by his wife Carolyn, his children and grandchildren.

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