Credit Steve Haywood

Professor Sir Steve Smith made Freeman of the City of Exeter. Image courtesy of Steve Haywood. 

Professor Sir Steve Smith made Freeman of the City of Exeter

Professor Sir Steve Smith’s extraordinary contribution to Exeter and the local community has been recognised at a ceremony today in the historic Guildhall where he was awarded Freeman of the City.  

The Freeman of the City is an honour granted to military units and deserving people with a connection to Exeter with previous Honorary Freemen ranging from Lord Nelson to athlete Jo Pavey, and also recently Dr Todd Gray an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and leading historian on the area. 

Since October 2002, Professor Sir Steve Smith has led the transformation of the University of Exeter so that it is now ranked in the top 15 universities in the UK and the top 150 in the world. Student numbers have nearly doubled and the financial turnover has increased nearly five-fold. Today, the University injects more than £1.17bn into the economy and generates over 11,000 jobs in the South West, including over 5000 jobs in Exeter itself.

Sir Steve has made both a major contribution to education and research in the south west and through various national roles has helped shape the higher education sector we know today – one of the great success stories of the UK.

From 2007 to 2010, he was a member of the Prime Minister’s National Council of Excellence in Education, which looked at how to best achieve world-class education performance for all children and young people. His leadership was instrumental in furthering understanding of widening participation and fair access, promoting a more joined up and collaborative education system, focused on raising aspiration and attainment at all stages. Sir Steve was knighted in the 2011 Queen's Birthday Honours for services to higher education locally and nationally.

The first in his family to go to university, Sir Steve’s deep personal commitment to the transformative power of higher education has been one of his principal motivations. He was told at school that he wasn’t capable of getting to university, and this drove him not only to succeed academically but also to devote his life to opening up educational opportunities to all.

Sir Steve made his name as a world-renowned International Relations expert. He has written or edited 17 books, published well over 100 academic papers and has given over 170 academic presentations in 22 countries. His book on the Globalisation of World Politics has become a best-seller for an academic book, with over 600,000 copies sold. In 2001 he became only the second UK academic to be elected President of world academic body in his field, the International Studies Association.

The University of Exeter has won many accolades during Sir Steve’s tenure including twice winning the Times Higher Education University of the Year, Sunday Times University of the Year in 2013, and Times and Sunday Times Sports University of the Year in 2016.

Sir Steve has donated and raised significant sums of money for the university as well as other charities across the region and he intends to retire in Exeter so that he can continue to contribute to the local community once he leaves the University in 2020. 

Professor Sir Steve Smith said on becoming Freeman of the City:

“I accept this honour with humility and warmth. It means a lot to me to become a Freeman of this great City but I also accept it on behalf of all my colleagues at the University of Exeter.

“Over the past 16 years a large number of staff in the university and the City Council have spent a lot of time building a supportive and productive relationship between the two organisations. The incredible success of the city in recent years owes a lot to a wide range of people, but a central role has been played by the way the university and City Council have worked together on education, on the economy, on arts and culture, and on planning.

“I have been delighted to see the development of the city during my time here and have been both proud and very happy to be a small part of the city’s progress. I will always be a major supporter of the university and the city of Exeter.”

Date: 5 February 2019

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