Paul Ramsden, 1948-2017

Former HEA chief executive hailed for ‘vision and persistence’ in changing teaching policy and practice

September 28, 2017
Paul Ramsden

An expert on improving the quality of university teaching, who became the first chief executive of the UK’s Higher Education Academy, has died.

Paul Ramsden was born in Leeds on 5 August 1948. He studied as an undergraduate at the University of London (1970) and began work as a research fellow and tutor at the North East London Polytechnic (1973-76). He moved to Lancaster University’s Institute for Post-Compulsory Education as a senior research officer (1976-81) while also researching a PhD (1981).

Of dual Anglo-Australian nationality, Professor Ramsden took up a position as senior lecturer in educational development at Newcastle Polytechnic (1981-84) but then moved to Australia for two decades, rising through the ranks from senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne (1984-93) to professor of higher education and director of the Griffith Institute for Higher Education at Griffith University (1993-99) and, finally, pro-vice-chancellor (teaching and learning) at the University of Sydney (1999-2004).

While working in Australia, Professor Ramsden became the architect of the Course Experience Questionnaire (the model for the UK’s National Student Survey). Craig McInnis, principal associate at the PhillipsKPA educational consultancy, where Professor Ramsden later worked as a key associate, described the introduction of the CEQ as “a lesson in how vision and persistence in changing policy and practice in higher education can be achieved”. He added: “Paul encountered a great deal of resistance to the CEQ from those opposed to performance measures of any kind… [Yet it has now proved] a much-needed source of reliable and relatively robust data that gives measures of teaching credibility comparable to those used to assess research performance.”

After his years in Australia, Professor Ramsden returned to the UK to become the founding chief executive of the HEA, the national body for promoting effective university teaching (2004-09). In 2008, he served as an expert adviser to the UK government on the future of teaching and the student experience, contributing a highly influential essay on the curriculum and teaching quality. Even after leaving the HEA, he continued to act as chair of the International Advisory Board for the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, advised the Irish government on its strategy for higher education and served as a visiting professor at what is now the UCL Institute of Education. He also shared his insights in two acclaimed books, Learning to Lead in Higher Education (1998) and Learning to Teach in Higher Education (2003).

Professor Ramsden died of a pulmonary embolism on 2 August and is survived by his second wife, Marilyn Taylor.

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