Former University of Exeter Vice-Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Holland, has died aged 78.

Tributes paid to former University of Exeter Vice-Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Holland

Tributes have been paid to the former University of Exeter Vice-Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Holland, who has died aged 78.

Sir Geoffrey was a highly distinguished civil servant in Whitehall before he became Vice-Chancellor at Exeter in 1994, retiring in 2002. During his time as Vice-Chancellor, he was deeply committed to building strong relations with the University’s local communities and businesses, and was instrumental in establishing the University’s campus in Cornwall. The campus was a major achievement, bringing higher education to Cornwall for the first time in partnership with University College Falmouth (now Falmouth University) and the Combined Universities in Cornwall project, with its emphasis on teaching and research related to the environment and global sustainability.

Also during his tenure, the University Exeter was twice awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for research into diabetes, and children’s health and exercise. Sir Geoffrey also oversaw the creation of the Peninsula College for Medicine and Dentistry, in partnership with the University of Plymouth and the NHS in the region. This was the predecessor to the Exeter and Plymouth Medical Schools which are now in place.

After receiving a first class BA honours degree in Modern Languages from St John's College, Oxford, Sir Geoffrey started his career in the Ministry of Labour in 1961 after completing National Service in the Royal Tank Regiment. He worked in the Civil Service for thirty years, lastly as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education. Prior to that he had held senior positions in the Manpower Services Commission and was Permanent Secretary at the Department of Employment.

Sir Geoffrey was a member of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, which published an influential report in 1997 about the purpose, structure and size of higher education. He was also a member of the Appointments Commission of the Press Complaints Commission, and chairman of the Government’s Sustainable Development Education Panel from 1998 to 2003.

Sir Geoffrey was also a great patron of the arts. He was responsible for developing the University’s art and sculpture collections and was instrumental in offering honorary doctorates to major figures in the world of art, including Bridget Riley CBE, Sir Terry Frost, Professor Andrew Motion, J K Rowling and Seamus Heaney.

In 2002, Sir Geoffrey and his wife Lady Carol Holland MBE, set up the arts educational charity, the Little Parc Owles Trust in order to support projects that make Cornish art more accessible to a wider public, particularly to young people.

After retiring from the University, Sir Geoffrey worked with numerous prestigious organisations, including as Chair of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, Chair of the Quality Improvement Agency, and as 14th President of the Marine Biological Association. In 2004, the University named Holland Hall, a student hall of residence on the Streatham Campus in Exeter, after Sir Geoffrey.

Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “Of all his achievements as Vice-Chancellor, the one that will surely be Sir Geoffrey’s lasting legacy will be his commitment to establishing a University of Exeter campus in Cornwall. The great success of that campus, and its considerable contribution to the economy and society of Cornwall, has its origins in Sir Geoffrey’s vision of what the University of Exeter could do for Cornwall and vice versa. I know that he always took considerable pleasure in seeing the development of the campus at Penryn. The University, and the County of Cornwall, owe Sir Geoffrey an enormous debt for having the foresight to see what might be possible.”

Following his retirement from the University, Sir Geoffrey lived in Cornwall with his wife, Lady Carol.

Date: 2 May 2017

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