Vale Emeritus Professor Brian Wilson AO (1930-2019)

Emeritus Brian Wilson AO

Emeritus Brian Wilson AO

The University of Queensland today pays tribute to the life and legacy of its longest-serving Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Brian Wilson AO.

Emeritus Professor Wilson, who died peacefully at home in France after 23 years of retirement, led UQ from 1979 until 1995.

UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese AO said Emeritus Professor Wilson helped transform UQ from a good regional university to one of national and international standing.

“Brian Wilson was a great reformer and visionary who led and defended the Australian university system during a period of unprecedented change brought about by the Dawkins reforms,” Mr Varghese said.

“He responded to this period of deregulation, amalgamation, the reintroduction of student fees and increasing student numbers by taking decisive actions that positioned the University to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.

“Among these reforms were a more streamlined academic structure, greater recognition for teaching excellence, incentives for research and postgraduate study, and a new tutorial assistance scheme to provide post-graduates with an income in return for undergraduate tutoring.”

“Appalled at what we now see as sexist language and behaviour, he personally created and led a committee dedicated to changing the culture and increasing career opportunities for women.”

Mr Varghese said Brian Wilson earned a reputation for decisiveness, a seemingly unflagging drive and energy, and willingness to take initiative and responsibility.

“Brian was fond of telling people that, when asked at his job interview what he saw as the ideal number for a committee, he replied ‘one’.”

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Aidan Byrne also paid tribute to Emeritus Professor Wilson.

“As Vice-Chancellor, Brian Wilson made early inroads into exploring alternative sources of income for the University, the benefits of which are still felt today,” Professor Byrne said.

“He saw the potential to commercialise research outcomes to solve industry problems, while also securing UQ’s financial independence.

“His vision led to the establishment of UniQuest in 1984. It’s now Australia’s foremost university commercialisation entity that has created more than 100 startups and raised $700 million to take university technology to market.

“Brian also created a University Foundation to attract donations from corporations and philanthropists and was instrumental in the successful Customs House Restoration Campaign.”

Professor Wilson was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by The University of Queensland in 1995 and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. The title Professor Emeritus was conferred by the University Senate, taking effect in 1995.

Mr Varghese said Emeritus Professor Wilson left behind an extraordinary legacy.

“I convey the UQ community’s deep condolences to Emeritus Professor Wilson’s wife, Joan, and to his children Bronwen, Patrick, Brendan, Conor, Fergus and Cormac.”

Prior to his appointment as UQ’s Vice-Chancellor in January 1979 - where he succeeded Sir Zelman Cowen - Professor Wilson had been a professor in physics and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Calgary, as well as Vice-President (Academic) and professor of astronomy at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

He was a former chair of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee (1987-1990) and in 1993, was appointed Chair of the Australian Government’s Higher Education Quality Review program. The review was seen as a stimulus for change, with universities becoming much more quality-driven.

He was made an officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 1995 for Services to Australian Higher Education and received a Centenary Medal in 2001 at a ceremony in Paris.

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