Sir Graham Hills, 1926-2014

A former principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, acclaimed for his efforts to widen access to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, has died

April 3, 2014

Sir Graham Hills served as the university’s principal from 1980 to 1991, during which time he emphasised the importance of a strong science curriculum and oversaw extensive modernisation of the institution via investment in information technology.

“Sir Graham believed fervently in the ‘useful learning’ which is at the centre of our university’s ethos and his influence is still felt in the leading international university Strathclyde is today,” said principal Sir Jim McDonald.

“He wanted access to education to be determined by ability above all else and ensured Strathclyde was generous in its support for the development of local businesses. We remain true to these principles today.”

Born on 9 April 1926 in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, he gained a chemistry degree through part-time study at Birkbeck, University of London, before becoming a lecturer in physical chemistry at Imperial College London in 1949. He then joined the University of Southampton, rising through the ranks to become senior deputy vice-chancellor, before being chosen to lead Strathclyde.

After his retirement from the Glasgow university, he was commissioned by the Highlands and Islands Development Board to conduct a feasibility study on a university for the region, and his report helped to form the basis of what is now the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Sir Graham was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and also held fellowships from Birkbeck, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

One of the largest buildings on Strathclyde’s campus is named after Sir Graham, and houses departments of the Business School and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Ronald Crawford, former academic registrar at the university and a colleague of Sir Graham for 10 years, said the former principal was “something of a maverick”.

“He could be charmingly unpredictable, which was infuriating at times,” Dr Crawford recalled. One of Sir Graham’s self-declared favourite pastimes, he said, was “rocking the boat”.

“I remember on a trip to Poland during the Falklands War, a junior minister at their department for education made a point of giving Graham a lecture, referring to the islands as the Malvinas.

“He waited for him to finish, before saying: ‘Don’t forget that Britain went to war for Poland’. After that the trip went very well, and to this day Strathclyde still has strong links with the Lodz University of Technology.”

Sir Graham died in Edinburgh on 9 February. He is survived by three daughters, a son and four grandchildren.

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