All Change at the Top, as longest standing Vice-Chancellor in country retires

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Professor Michael Sterling, retires this week following more than 19 years as a Vice-Chancellor, eight of those at Birmingham.

Professor Sterling hands over the reins to Professor David Eastwood, currently Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), who commences in post from 13 April 2009.

Professor Sterling has been instrumental in building Birmingham’s academic reputation and bringing the University from a position of financial insecurity to one of economic stability.

He has also driven forward an ambitious programme of organisational change, the ethos of which was to put academic endeavour at the heart of decision-making, reduce bureaucracy and enable the University to quickly grasp opportunities.

19 former individual academic schools are now shaped into five unified Colleges, with Heads of College now appointed who sit around the decision-making table with the Vice-Chancellor.

Professor Sterling has been at the forefront of estates developments, creating a new skyline for the campus which includes the Institute for Biomedical Research, the Business School, the Sport and Exercise Sciences building and new halls of residence including Mason Hall and the Shackleton hub.

As an engineer by background, two initiatives that Sterling is particularly proud to have secured for Birmingham are the HEFCE-funded National Higher Education STEM Programme, to increase the number of graduates with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths disciplines to fulfill the needs of employers and boost the UK economy, and establishing the Energy Technologies Institute alongside Nottingham and Loughborough Universities.

Professor Sterling has also attended 160 degree ceremonies and congratulated more than 50,000 graduates.

Whilst at Birmingham, Professor Sterling was Chair of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities at a crucial time in higher education history, when the White Paper on tuition fees was being debated and subsequently passed. He also served as President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and sits on the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, where he chairs the sub-committees on Energy and Water.

One of the more unusual duties to perform before his retirement was posing for an official portrait created by artist Paul Brason, which will grace the corridors of the Aston Webb building for years to come. A total of seven sittings were required to fully capture Professor Sterling’s character.

On his retirement, Professor Michael Sterling said: “After 19 years as a Vice-Chancellor, I certainly feel excited at the prospect of a different lifestyle, but also consider it a privilege to have been part of a period of intense change for higher education.

“I have greatly enjoyed my time at Birmingham, as has my wife Wendy, who has been a committed supporter of all the University’s endeavours. I am delighted with Professor

David Eastwood’s appointment as my successor and am confident that Birmingham will go from strength to strength under his leadership.

“I will certainly miss the ethos of a university and camaraderie of the team.”

Professor Eastwood has been Chief Executive at HEFCE since September 2006. Former posts include Vice-Chancellor at the University of East Anglia and Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Board. An historian by academic background, Professor Eastwood previously held a Chair in Modern History at the University of Wales Swansea, where he was also head of department, Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

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