Professor Sir David Watson

It is with great sadness that OUDE received the news about the death of Professor Sir David Watson, who passed away on Sunday 8 February 2015 after a short illness. He leaves an immense legacy to higher education research, practice, and leadership.

Green Templeton College obituary
The Times Higher Education announcement
Tribute from the Society for Research in Higher Education

David Watson took office as the second Principal of Green Templeton College in October 2010. He was appointed Professor of Higher Education in the University from the same date.
He is a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education, University of London and Adjunct Professor at James Cook University, Queensland. He contributes in particular to the Department’s teaching, research and development activities in higher education.

He was previously Professor of Higher Education Management at the Institute of Education, University of London (2005-2010), Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton (1990-2005), and Dean and Deputy Director of Oxford Polytechnic (1981-90). He read history at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a Choral Exhibitioner and Open Scholar. He was a Thouron Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded his doctorate in intellectual history in 1975.

He has contributed widely to developments in UK higher education, including as a member of the Council for National Academic Awards (1977-1993), the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council (1988-92), and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (1992-96).

He was a member of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s National Commission on Education (whose report Learning to Succeed was published in 1993), and the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education chaired by Sir Ron Dearing (whose report Higher Education in the Learning Society was published in 1997). He chaired the national Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning, and co-authored its report Learning Through Life (2009).

He was the elected chair of the Universities Association for Continuing Education between 1994 and 1998, chaired the Longer Term Strategy Group of Universities UK between 1999 and 2005, and was President of the Society for Research into Higher Education between 2005 and 2012. He was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2008 and the Times Higher Education Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

He was knighted in 1998 for services to higher education. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from the Open University, Oxford Brookes University, the University of Southampton, the University of Sussex, the University of Bath, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Brighton, and Keele University, Honorary Fellowships of Queen Mary University of London and the City and Guilds Institute London, and Honorary Membership of the Royal College of Music.

He has been a Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation since 2005 and a Companion of the Institute of Management since 2000


Watson’s academic interests are in the history of ideas and in higher education policy.

Selected publications

  • The Question of Conscience: higher education and personal responsibility (Institute of Education Press, 2014)
  • (With David Scott, Gwyneth Hughes, Penny-Jane Burke, Carol Evans, and Catherine Walter) Learning Transitions in Higher Education (Palgrave, 2013)
  • (With Robert Hollister, Susan Stroud and Elizabeth Babcock) The Engaged University: international perspectives on civic engagement (Routledge, 2011)
  • The Question of Morale: managing happiness and unhappiness in university life (McGraw-Hill/Open University Press, 2009)
  • (With Tom Schuller) Learning Through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (NIACE, 2009)
  • (Edited with Michael Amoah)  The Dearing Report; ten years on (Bedford Way Papers, Institute of Education, 2007)
  • Managing Civic and Community Engagement (McGraw-Hill/Open University Press, 2007)
  • (With Elizabeth Maddison)  Managing Institutional Self-Study  (Open University Press, 2005)
  • (Ed. with Maria Slowey) Higher Education and the Lifecourse (SRHE/Open University Press, 2003)
  • (Ed. with Tom Bourner and Tim Katz)  New Directions in Professional Higher Education (SRHE/Open University Press, 2000)
  • Managing Strategy (Open University Press, 2000)
  • (With Richard Taylor) Lifelong Learning and the University: a post-Dearing agenda (Falmer Press, 1998)
  • (With Jean Bocock)  Managing the University Curriculum: making common cause  (SRHE/Open University Press, 1994)
  • Arendt (HarperCollins: Fontana Modern Masters, 1992)
  • (With Hazel Bines) Developing Professional Education (SRHE/Open University Press, 1992)
  • (With David Scurry, John Brooks, Roger Lindsay and Chris Coghill) Managing the Modular Course: perspectives from Oxford Polytechnic (SRHE/Open University Press, 1989)
  • Margaret Fuller: an American romantic (Berg, 1988)
David Watson webprofile


  • Honorary Research Fellow

College affiliation

  • Green Templeton College


  • Professor of Higher Education

Subject area

  • MSc Education (Higher Education)

Research groups

  • Higher Education and Professional Learning

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