Tributes paid following death of Nottingham’s former Vice-Chancellor


May 24th, 2022

Tributes have been paid following the death of Professor Sir Colin Campbell, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham.

Sir Colin passed away peacefully on Friday 20 May at the age of 77.

In 1988 he made history as the country’s youngest Vice-Chancellor when, then aged 43, he took up the role at Nottingham. He was then the university’s fifth Vice-Chancellor and served until 2008.

Sir Colin played a key role in the commissioning of the Jubilee Campus expansion scheme and was instrumental in raising Nottingham’s profile internationally – overseeing the opening of campuses in China and Malaysia, and attracting more overseas students than any other university in the country.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West said: “From the award-winning Jubilee Campus to the pioneering University of Nottingham Ningbo, the first Sino-foreign University in China, he had a vision to grow the university not just through infrastructure, but through student numbers, reputation and by forging new links.

“He was a formidable man and will always be remembered. We offer our deepest condolences to his family at this sad time.”

Dr Paul Greatrix, Registrar at the University of Nottingham, said: “Working alongside Sir Colin it was clear he was ambitious about raising our profile globally and ensuring Nottingham was in what he called the ‘premier division’ of universities.

“So much of the university we know today would not be here without his influence.”

Sir Colin Campbell, 1944 – 2022

Sir Colin was born on 26 December 1944. He graduated with first class honours in law from the University of Aberdeen. He subsequently held appointments at the University of Dundee and the University of Edinburgh before becoming Professor of Jurisprudence at the Queen’s University, Belfast, where he was Dean of the law faculty and a Pro Vice-Chancellor.

In the late 1980s he succeeded Professor Basil Weedon to become the university’s fifth Vice-Chancellor.

When he arrived at Nottingham, Sir Colin decided that the university needed to become globally competitive. His legacy in Nottingham includes Jubilee Campus, on which he has a building in his name, as well as the university’s campuses in China and Malaysia. Under his leadership in 2006 Nottingham also established the first Veterinary School to open in the UK for 50 years. He was made an honorary citizen of Ningbo in 2004 in recognition of his contribution to the construction and development of the city and was made a Datuk by the Government of Malaysia in 2009.

His professional biography includes his appointment as Her Majesty’s First Commissioner for Judicial Appointments a position he held until 2006.

He was also a member of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights for Northern Ireland, the Legal Aid Advisory Committee, the Mental Health Legislation Review Committee, as well as chairing various committees of inquiry in Northern Ireland.

He had previously served on the University Grants Committee, as Vice Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and as a member of the Board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. In 1994 he was instrumental in the creation of the Russell Group – a group of leading universities established to represent their interests to government.

He also held a number of other professional positions including the Northern Ireland Economic Council, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology authority, the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee.

He was knighted in 1994 and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire in 1996.

An online book of condolences has been opened in Sir Colin’s memory for people to leave messages of remembrance and celebration of his life.

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18 Comments

May 25th, 2022 at 11:56 am

hywel williams

Sir Colin was a great leader and visionary. You always knew where you stood with him. He achieved great things for the University of Nottingham and internationalisation.

May 25th, 2022 at 1:52 pm

Liz Sockett

Sir Colin was inquisitive, clever, hard-working and well- informed. Many years ago, as a young lecturer I first met him on group rewriting all University documents into gender-free language (hard to imagine now!). Another time I was tapped on the shoulder, when walking across campus, and congratulated for my promotion to Reader. He was interested in how it felt working at UoN and later in his career once spent a day as a “temporary technician” in our lab. He sampled a little of everything from running a DNA gel to taking the waste out, to having coffee in the canteen. He did a lot of good things to develop UoN. R.I.P. and thank you.

May 26th, 2022 at 9:19 am

George Chen

Sir Colin is the vice chancellor with far reaching vision, but more importantly objective and effective action. Here is a small but good example. I remember attending a meeting in the Faculty of Engineering in late 2005 when he introduced and explained the initiative to implement the “associate professor” title in place of the “reader” title in the University of Nottingham. This was actually disagreed then by many at the meeting who regarded the “associate professor” title in US Universities is not the same as the title of reader in UK universities. Sir Colin’s thought was that associate professor is internationally recognised, whilst “reader” is much less known globally. The clever and effective approach of Sir Colin was inviting all staff at the reader level to agree and accept the title of “associate professor and reader” with a salary increment. I believe most, if not all, agreed and accepted. I will surely miss him as a clever leader whose vision and action had brought about a huge positive impact on the University of Nottingham and also globally.

May 26th, 2022 at 6:00 pm

John Astill

A lovely human being could talk to all different staff from cleaners to professor’s
Loved his sport symphathy to Victoria and Andrew and his grandchildren

May 27th, 2022 at 5:55 pm

Prof Mumtaz Ahmed Khan

Very proud to have been a postgraduate during the second year of my studies at Nottingham. I have been following the rise of the university under Sir Colin’s tenure and his successors.
I am hoping to see my granddaughter enter the university to continue our family link with this great institution what will be the generation to apply to study there.
I hope to visit Nottingham frequently to reacquaint myself with Goose Fair, places where I studied, taught and worked.
Best wishes for the family of Sir Colin Campbell and all those reading this message.

May 27th, 2022 at 6:24 pm

Braema Mathi

My deep condolences. I met Prof Colin Campbell in 1989 when I became the President of the Overseas Students’ Union( later renamed as the International Students’ Union). He was so refreshingly different as he was transparent and open, seeing students as allies, partners and keen to strengthen synergies between students, academic staff and university management.
He shared his ideas on the possibility of setting up University campuses in other countries, especially in the ‘Far East’ , the value of having courses like veterinary science( and that it had to be as good as medical studies) and asked for my views.
I agreed with almost all that he shared as ideas. And then I told him that were communication, linguistic and cultural gaps between international students and frontline service staff(referring to the regular staff that students meet at halls of residence, canteens, libraries, in departments, sports facilities).I suggested some degree of training workshops for staff and that we, as a student body, would also prop up orientation/cultural programmes and increase support for students What I liked about that discussion was the level of respect shown to me and a sincere engagement on what I shared. Prof Colin then joked about being a Scotsman which was also culturally different and advised me to speak to a key staff member. And he made a determined effort to attend the International Evening that was organised despite a heavy commitment to family and university matters. Till today this intercultural( using present parlance) training programme I hear goes on within the university.
I value Prof Colin for what he has done for University of Nottingham, expanding its opportunities and giving breadth to student-staff engagements.
When Pro Vice-Chancellor heard that I was returning home to Singapore without attending my convocation, he invited me to don a gown( lent by my Head of English Studies, Prof Christine Fell), put on a mortar board and to take a photograph with him, before I flew home. That’s something, ain’t it!!! Thank you.
Rest In Peace, Prof Colin Campbell.
Much ado about everything, most often for the better – thank you

May 29th, 2022 at 11:50 am

Richard Simpson

As a University of Nottingham alumnus living in New York in the early 2000’s, I was invited to an alumni dinner event in Manhattan. Unable to attend at the last moment because of a competing obligation, I was invited by Sir Colin out of the blue to join him for breakfast at his hotel in the morning following the dinner. As just an alumnus of no particular distinction or connection with him, there was no need or expectation for Sir Colin to do this. I was delighted to accept his invitation, however, and I was rewarded with a private audience with Sir Colin, who was both engaging and engaged: engaging because of his plans, visions, energy and enthusiasm; and engaged because he was as interested in me and my life as I was interested in his. An admirable man and great servant of our university.

June 7th, 2022 at 4:19 pm

Chris Wrigley

Colin Campbell was outstanding. He kept taking initiatives which seemed unduly risky (overseas additional campuses here), yet the university’s success kept growing. I first met him at Queen’s University, Belfast. I came to Nottingham University when he did. An era went when he retired.

June 8th, 2022 at 11:36 am

Stephen Hodkinson

I first met Colin Campbell in 2003 when he interviewed me one-to-one after I’d applied from another university for an advertised Chair in the Department of Classics. He had approved the advertisement as a positive response to a critical external review of the Department following a disappointing performance in RAE2001. Characteristically of Sir Colin, his reaction was to boost the Department rather than to implement cuts. In my interview I was immediately impressed by his frankness and sense of initiative – and by his spontaneous offer of a salary above what I was planning to request! I was even more impressed when, after the formal interviews, he decided to appoint not just one new Professor, but two!
Three years later, when I was Head of Department and the Arts Faculty was experiencing unexpected undergraduate recruitment difficulties, he approved an ambitious business plan which the School of Humanities and I proposed, whereby my Department got two extra academic posts in return for taking more UG students. This was a typical example of his constructive responsiveness to sound bottom-up initiatives: an openness which made you feel positively empowered to help shape the University’s future, with minimal obstructive bureaucratic barriers.
Sir Colin’s decisions and initiative proved well-founded. They kick-started a period of sustained growth and success for the Department (now Classics and Archaeology) which have made it a leading centre in the field. His leadership and vision are much missed.

June 10th, 2022 at 8:12 pm

Sir Peter Rubin

Only those of us who were at the University before Colin’s arrival can fully appreciate the enormity of his impact. The transition from a provincial institution to one with global reach was largely down to his vision, leadership and refreshing willingness to risk making a few mistakes. My first substantive encounter with him was in the summer of 1990 when he wanted to merge my department with two others, creating a new, enlarged Department of Medicine. “But Vice-Chancellor,” said the Registrar, “you can’t just go about abolishing departments in the long vacation”. “Just watch me!” was his response. Colin’s leadership style – and his sometimes liberal view of due process – certainly had its detractors, but massive change will always leave some people upset. As I got to know him better, I saw that Colin was far more nuanced than the “sometimes wrong but never in doubt” popular image. He listened and responded to a well-argued challenge and he welcomed new and different ideas. He understood people, walking the difficult line between supportive encouragement and not interfering. And he valued the vital role of support staff. Colin was an inspiring leader – arguably the outstanding vice-chancellor of his generation – and I feel privileged to have known him.

June 13th, 2022 at 3:22 pm

Robert Dingwall

I first met Colin when he was involved in the foundation of the Socio-Legal Studies Association in the late 1970s. Although his career took him a long way from scholarship, he is still recognized as one of the pioneers of law and society studies in the UK. Relatively few people knew much about his background in Aberdeenshire and the social distance that he travelled from a strict presbyterian family of modest means to join the country’s intellectual and policy elite. Friends from Belfast told me of their regrets that he had not been offered the VC post there and that they had failed to benefit from his drive and vision, and his ability to negotiate the sectarian politics around the university. His ambition to place Nottingham among the great research universities of the world was not always comfortable for those asked to implement it – but set him apart from the metric-obsessed penny-pinchers who now so often seem to occupy that position. He also had a remarkable capacity for small, and unadvertised, acts of kindness. I remember him taking time out to attend the funeral of a brilliant young law lecturer with cystic fibrosis and of his care when a participant in a big socio-legal conference died in a panel session. In good times and bad, all of us who aspired to leadership could learn from him.

June 13th, 2022 at 6:01 pm

David Greenaway

Sir Colin Campbell has been Nottingham’s longest serving Vice-Chancellor to date. At 20 years his tenure exceeded even that of our first Vice-Chancellor, Bertrand Hallward.
Colin’s impact on Nottingham was transformational. He raised aspiration, ambition and expectations; he led the University through a period of sustained growth and development which propelled it from an institution of sound national standing to one with global relevance and visibility. His vision and drive combined with a willingness to take risks delivered new disciplines and new campuses in Nottingham, and of course pioneering campuses in Malaysia and China. Not all of Colin’s bets paid off, nor were all of his initiatives universally welcomed. But both are to be expected when driving change at pace.
In total I served for 11 years as a Pro Vice-Chancellor with Colin and was trusted with responsibility for delivery of some of his big ideas. That was a privilege and a pleasure. Colin was a demanding leader, but always fair minded, always open to challenge, always motivated by doing the best he could for the University, it’s staff and it’s students. He left Nottingham as an immeasurably stronger and more confident University than the one he inherited.

June 14th, 2022 at 8:48 pm

Keith Hamill

I was a member of the Council of Nottingham University, and for a period its President, during Coin Campbell’s twenty years of service as its Vice Chancellor.

During my time at Nottingham as a student and Officer of the Students Union, the University was generally known as a socially agreeable place to be a student, with a limited number of high caliber Departments. By the time of Colin Campbell’s appointment , a lack of confidence and the absence of clear strategic management, together with a long period of retrenchment , had resulted in seriously negative momentum. Too many of the long term tenured staff thought “they were “God’s gift” to the University” and some thought ” it was God’s gift to them”.

Colin rapidly overcame these problems , through exceptional strategic leadership, building effective management teams and communications, high quality staff recruitment and performance management, establishing relationships with supportive outside organizations ,fundraising and an innovative and highly successful international strategy. These actions created a platform from which his successors have been able to continue with the successful development of the University,

There were mistakes , as there always are with large scale strategic development But they were negligible compared with what was achieved.

I grew up during my time at Nottingham University and I am proud of my association with it. It was not easy to turn the University around from negative momentum to positive momentum and I, and many others, will always be grateful to Colin that he did..

June 16th, 2022 at 9:20 pm

John Mills

I first met Colin at a lunch arranged for that purpose and then as his guest at Twickenham – he was rather enthusiastic about his rugby. I took it as a great compliment that he asked me to join Council (subject at the time to Keith’s approval). These were the latter years of Colin’s tenure as VC but he had an excellent mind, clarity of purpose and no less ambition than when he’d started his tenure. I learnt quickly that a chat with Colin always had purpose and if you challenged him you needed a well thought through reason.
As a new VC he challenged the way the sector and Nottingham thought, was a first mover, took risks, made big calls and change always excited him. I hadn’t re-engaged with Nottingham at that time but Sir Peter Ruben’s comments echo everything I came to understand about the impact he had and the scale of transformation he sought to achieve. I share Keith’s view that Colin created momentum in all areas of the University be it student growth, breadth and depth of research, infrastructure both UK and internationally and above all its ambition. He understood people well and supported those who contributed to that momentum and shared his vision. He was open to challenge but dismissive of criticism without substance. Sir David sums it up well, and knows better than I, that keeping everybody at a University happy through periods of growth and change is not achievable.
I wasn’t there at the start but I know much of the University he created with those who had like mind. The scale of the University in student numbers, new campuses in China and Malaysia, the Jubilee campus and Vet School at Sutton Bonington, breadth and depth in research, and a culture of being forward looking, innovative and ambitious. A legacy with sound foundations for the future.
On a personal level I remember a kind and generous man with an excellent if dry sense of humour who understood people and was happy to invest time with them. It was always a pleasure to be in his company and I’m proud to have known a remarkable man.
Nottingham University must always reflect on and respect his contribution as it would not be the University it is today without him.

June 18th, 2022 at 1:05 pm

Professor Emeritus David Hopkins

Colin Campbell was the most outstanding educational leader I have worked with. He was inspirational, humane and visionary. Colin was also a kind man and generous in spirit. I value enormously the time that I worked with him in Nottingham helping to establish the Jubilee Campus, securing the National College for School Leadership and continuing to develop the Faculty of Education. Thank you Colin for the example and personal kindness. In admiration, David

June 20th, 2022 at 12:22 pm

Professor John Robertson

A month since Sir Colin Campbell’s death and the poignant sadness of his passing is undiminished. Having been at the University of Nottingham since his appointment as Vice Chancellor in 1988, having myself risen from research fellow to Head of Division of Breast Surgery during this time, his impact on the University and my own personal career during his 20 year tenure were profound.

His impact on the institution is obvious, from where it was when Sir Colin was appointed Vice Chancellor in 1988 to what it had become under his leadership when he retired in 2008. Others colleagues during Sir Colin’s tenure as VC, among them Professor Sir Peter Rubin (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine), Professor Sir David Greenaway (Pro-Vice Chancellor) and Keith Hamill, President of Council for eight years from 2003, have already paid tribute to his impact on the University as an institution.

From a personal perspective, he supported new and creative ideas not only in terms of its promotion and the attribution of academic recognition but also the facilitation of its development and the eventual commercialisation of that knowledge for the benefit of people (Nottingham, UK and beyond). In my interaction with Sir Colin, benefit to the University was important to him too but not his primary driving force – he was and remained a man of and for the people.

While he didn’t suffer fools gladly he never expected a level of commitment and endeavour he himself wasn’t able to give. My own experience of him was also that he showed kindness when one might have expected the Vice Chancellor would be focussed on institutional business and/or his national appointments. When asked, he was willing to offer advice, which was always sage and pertinent. When you got to know him he had a dry sense of humour and a witty turn of phrase. He was the public figure people saw but he was much more than that when you got to know him better.

Beyond all of the above, what I will remember about Colin is that he was driven by what he believed was the right thing to do – what more would you expect from a Professor of Jurisprudence? That didn’t mean he couldn’t see alternative views on an issue. He believed firmly in asking people with greater expertise on a subject for their opinions and comments. It also doesn’t mean that every decision he made was the ‘right’ one. What it does mean, and what I found as I got to know him, was his decisions and actions were guided by looking to make a difference for good – which he did in so many different ways and aspects of life – for individuals like myself, the institution of the University of Nottingham (and the wider UK Universities) and internationally through the University’s international campuses and international alumni engagement.

Colin, you are, and will be, dearly missed.

John Robertson, Professor of Surgery

June 20th, 2022 at 4:26 pm

Stephen Brown

I worked closely with Colin as a Head of Department, Dean of Engineering and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Industry for 20 years from the time of his arrival at Nottingham. Having worked for 25 years in the University under four VCs, it was immediately clear that Colin would break the mould and life for all of us was going to change and not everybody was going to enjoy it. However, Colin managed the change from a comfortable middle of the range University to one of the top British institutions and a leader in international developments in higher education.
As a result of his experience building personal relationships with government and industry, he was able to foresee major changes to the way Universities would be required to operate in the future and this gave Nottingham the edge in both research and teaching developments. My first conversation with Colin was prior to his arrival in Nottingham when he spoke of the importance of research and of engineering in particular. He identified the implementation of research quality measures and the need to modularise teaching programmes as two factors that would be introduced. He also saw the need to increase Nottingham’s already excellent relationships with industry for the benefit of both research and teaching. We were able to build on existing broad-based Strategic Partnerships with leading companies such as Shell, Ford and Rolls Royce.
As one of his first actions, Colin established a Research Committee to facilitate improved research performance. This was given a budget to pump prime new research ideas and to back links with industry. We also prepared the University for the quantification of research quality as this was to determine future research income from the Funding Council. Within a short time, Nottingham’s research income from industry was exceeded only by Oxbridge and Imperial College and overall research income increased year on year. In order to be ready for change, Colin also ensured that Nottingham was amongst the first to introduce modular teaching.
A feature of Colin’s leadership was a “can do” attitude involving the right people and improved management. His approach of taking lessons from company management into academia was successful in this context. I recall showing a senior visitor from another provincial University around the Jubilee Campus when it was new and noting his admiration for the speed with which we had changed the old Raleigh Cycle site into a modern, attractive and well-appointed extension to Highfields campus.
Colin recognised that high quality leadership was required both for existing successful departments and for those needing improvement. Consequently, he took a personal interest in all new chair appointments to ensure that this was the case.
He was very proud of his two children, Andrew and Victoria, and of Nottingham Forest and of the British and Irish Lions, ensuring that Saturdays’ matches were analysed at Monday Management Group meetings before the formal business.
These recollections only touch on a few of the many aspects of Professor Sir Colin Campbell’s outstanding 20 year leadership at Nottingham. It was a pleasure and privilege to be part of it.

June 24th, 2022 at 9:00 am

Karen Cox

I joined the University of Nottingham in 1994 and very quickly became aware of Sir Colin as a leader who was visionary, and interested in people and talent. He transformed Nottingham into the internationally relevant University it is today and I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to observe how he led, challenged and took an interest in the careers of others. He is missed.

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