The making of a vice-chancellor

September 5, 2003

An analysis of the curriculum vitae of UK vice-chancellors shows the impact of the old grammar schools on higher education. Well over three-quarters of vice-chancellors are grammar school boys (and occasionally girls).

Diana Green, formerly of South Park High School for Girls in Lincoln and now vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said:

"Going to a grammar school was critical in terms of my career. I was encouraged to be ambitious."

Nearly all UK female vice-chancellors went to all-girl grammar schools.

Of those who went to private schools, many were scholarship pupils. Sir David Watson of Brighton University left Cheshunt Grammar School to go to Eton on a Fleming Scholarship paid for by Hertfordshire County Council. "It was a short-lived pre-Sutton Trust-style initiative, immortalised in a novel called The Guinea Pig by David Benedictus, very badly filmed with Richard Attenborough in the title role," he recalls.

Catholic private schools, including ones run by the Christian Brothers, also appear to have been successful at producing vice-chancellors.

At least 23 vice-chancellors did their first degree at Oxbridge, with many more doing subsequent qualifications or research there. Just two went to former polytechnics, including Michael Driscoll of Middlesex University and chair of the Coalition of Modern Universities.

Vice-chancellors have studied a wide range of subjects and are fairly evenly split between the humanities and the sciences.

While many have sat on company boards, an increasing number have held senior posts in business - notably Sir Richard Sykes at Imperial College London (former chairman of GlaxoWellcome), Alf Morris at the University of the West of England (a management accountant for Guinness) and John Hood, new vice-chancellor of Oxford, who held a senior post in Fletcher Challenge, one of New Zealand's largest companies.

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