Sir Peter Scott (Doctor of Letters)

Oration by Professor Gordon Campbell

Sir Peter Scott is an educationalist and public intellectual with a particular interest in Britain's universities. He first came to prominence in 1976, when he was appointed editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement, a post that he was to hold for 16 years. On his editorial watch, the THES maintained a principled detachment from government, funding agencies and the various lobbies within higher education. This independence of spirit did not always endear it to politicians, but it became the much-respected parish magazine of the universities. It contained reporting and opinion pieces, as one would expect, but under Peter's stewardship the THES also contained a significant amount of well-informed analysis, and we all emerged from reading it not only knowing a little more, but also understanding a little more.

In 1992 Peter Scott decided to enter the profession of which he had become a distinguished student, and took up an appointment as Professor of Education at the University of Leeds, where he also served as Director of the University's Centre for Policy Studies in Education. This interest in policy, which continues to this day, has its origins in Peter's student days, when after leaving Oxford he became a visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Public Policy in Berkeley. At Leeds, Peter's managerial capabilities were quickly recognised, and he soon became Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Affairs. This post in turn became a springboard for the Vice-Chancellorship of Kingston University, which he held until 2010. Running a university is a full-time, long-hours job, but Peter also created time to serve as chair of HEFCE's Strategic Committee on Widening Participation, chair of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning, chair of the Research Advisory Committee of the Higher Education Academy, and chair of the Research Advisory Panel of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. These posts are a mirror of his long-held and well-informed interests in access, continuing education, research into higher education and educational management. There is also a European and indeed global dimension to Peter's interests, as evidenced by his presidency of the Academic Cooperation Association, a Brussels-based umbrella group for agencies active in international education such as the British Council and DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service. His contribution in this sphere has been recognised by his election to Academia Europaea, which is a prestigious European Academy whose members are generally drawn from  national academies, in Peter's case the UK's Academy of Social Sciences.

On retiring from his Vice-Chancellorship, Sir Peter, as he had become, returned to an academic post, this time as  Professor of Higher Education Studies at the University of London's Institute of Education, where he teaches on the MBA in Higher Education Management. Even in retirement, one job isn't enough for Peter, so he also serves as Chair of Council at the University of Gloucestershire.

Throughout this succession of senior posts, Peter has continued to research and to publish, both for an academic readership and for the general educated public. His many books are devoted to urgent issues in higher education, including globalisation, university leadership and governance, the strategies appropriate to mass higher education, the role of government, and the place of the university in our society. He has also published some 70 chapters in edited collections, a score of essays and reports, and more than 50 journal articles. His writing for the public includes a regular column in Guardian Education, where he has in recent months written provocatively and constructively on topics such as scholarly publishing, declining student numbers, the funding of universities and academic freedom.

This daunting record of publication is driven by intellectual curiosity, but also by passion. Peter Scott cares deeply about our higher education system, and about its treatment by successive governments. We have one of the finest higher education systems in the world, but its excellence is threatened by the insistence of government that we are businesses whose purpose is to contribute to the economy. We are not, as Peter argued in a Guardian piece last month, part of a market in higher education, but rather a sector of public education that seeks to serve the public good. His conviction that the proper business of universities is teaching and research and that universities should be professionally but not autocratically managed has led to his membership of the Trustees and Advisory Board of the Council for the Defence of British Universities, which seeks to make the well-being of British universities and their students an election issue. In resisting the wholly instrumental view of higher education promulgated by successive governments, and in questioning the notion that students should be regarded as customers rather than complex, subtle, creative, living citizens in the process of formation,  Sir Peter Scott has become an outstanding champion of Britain's universities, and in honouring his accomplishments we also acknowledge our gratitude for his continuing defence of the values and well-being of our universities. He has voted for education with his life, and his tireless work on behalf of the sector has placed us all in his debt.

Mr Chancellor, on the authority of the Senate and the Council, I present to you Sir Peter Scott, that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Letters.

Written and delivered by Professor Gordon Campbell on 11 July 2013 at 3pm

Share this page: