Q&A with Sir Christopher Snowden

We speak to the president of Universities UK. Plus the latest higher education appointments

October 17, 2013

Sir Christopher Snowden became president of Universities UK in August. The engineer, who has been vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey since 2005, was previously chief executive of the electronics firm Filtronic ICS.

Where and when were you born?
Hull in 1956.

How has this shaped who you are?
I don’t think it had much impact on shaping my character – my later experiences in life have shaped me as a person. Like many others, my time as a student at university experiencing independence and new challenges, followed by my early career, made big impressions on me. I went on to work on both the west and east coasts of the US, which also had a strong influence on me.

Why should the man and woman in the street care about your new role?
Nearly 50 per cent of younger people in the UK now participate in higher education, and the research and teaching outcomes from our universities impact on all our lives.

Have you had a eureka moment?
Yes – several – and one in the style of Archimedes while having a bath!

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Always stay true to what you believe in and never give up.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
Albert Einstein, for his incredible ability to visualise groundbreaking concepts and describe them mathematically. He was an interesting character with an unconventional educational background.

What has been the most important change in higher education in the past 5-10 years?
The government’s White Paper of 2011, which fundamentally changed higher education in the UK and its funding, shifting the focus further towards the student and reducing direct funding of universities from the public purse.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a scientist or engineer from an early age. When I was young I was fascinated by taking things apart, and putting most of them back together again – clearly the signs of a budding engineer. I went on to design and make my own electronics projects, which sowed the seeds for a large part of my career.

Tell us about a book, show, film or play that you love.
I enjoy reading, especially biographies and history. I am currently reading Andrew Marr’s A History of the World, which is very easy to pick up when I get a moment.

What do you do for fun?
I have a lot of hobbies including photography, painting, gardening and collecting fossils – I never have enough time for them!

If you were to move overseas for work, where would you go?
Boston in the US. I worked in Massachusetts earlier in my career.

What’s your biggest regret?
Not meeting my wife sooner.

What’s an undergraduate degree worth?
Gaining an undergraduate degree is a passport for life, so in some ways it’s priceless. But in the end, its worth is what you make of it as an individual.

Moocs or books?
Books. A well-written book is hard to beat, and for me there is something about studying from a book that Moocs can’t match yet, although Moocs can provide a great stimulus.



Nottingham Trent University has appointed David Woolley as the new head of its Schools, College and Community Outreach team. It develops and coordinates programmes with schools, colleges and community organisations as part of the university’s widening participation work.

Karen Legge, honorary professor of organisation, work and technology in Lancaster University’s Management School, and Howard Thomas, dean of the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University, have each been presented with the Richard Whipp Lifetime Achievement Award at the th British Academy of Management conference in Liverpool.

Sridhar Seetharaman, Tata Steel research chair in low carbon materials technologies at the University of Warwick, has been awarded an honorary professorship by the University of Science and Technology Beijing.

The University of Oxford has appointed Susan Lea, professor of chemical pathology and co-director of the James Martin Vaccine Design Institute, to the statutory chair of microbiology in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. Professor Lea will be a fellow of Wadham College.

St George’s, University of London has appointed Philip Cooper to a chair in infectious diseases epidemiology.

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