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Durham University

Durham University News


Durham welcomes new Vice Chancellor

(18 April 2007)

Chris Higgins; Durham's new Vice Chancellor

World-renowned scientist, Professor Christopher Higgins has taken the helm at Durham University.

Today, Durham University – England’s third oldest and the North East’s premier seat of learning – welcomes its 23rd Vice Chancellor.

Professor Higgins, who previously was Professor at Oxford and then directed a trailblazing London-based medical research institute, takes up the University’s most senior position during its 175th anniversary year.

He succeeds Professor Sir Kenneth Calman who retired last month after nine years at the helm.

In addition to a top-quality research, management and policy making record, Professor Higgins brings with him a passion for Durham nurtured during a long relationship which began when he was a botany student at the university during the 1970s.

One of his key aims is to build on Durham’s reputation for international excellence through his leadership and to increase the University’s global profile.

Professor Higgins believes that Durham has the potential to become the “Princeton of Europe”, similar to the top ‘Ivy League’ American university in terms of its relatively small size, standards of excellence and world recognition.

He also has a vision and strategy for Durham’s Queen’s Campus in Stockton and the University’s role in the North East region.

Professor Higgins said: “Durham is simply a wonderful place in terms of its intellectual ethos, architecture and its people. It truly is unique. Its modest size brings big advantages, and it can be sufficiently flexible to meet the challenges of modern academia.

“The University is in good heart and there is a sense of happiness and ambition for excellence in research, learning and intellectual endeavour.

“Those in the know appreciate Durham and understand what makes it so distinctive, however not enough people know what Durham is all about so we need to do more to raise our profile and have an impact on the world stage.”

Professor Higgins, 51, studied as a violinist, spending time at the Royal College of Music before studying botany at Durham University, graduating with a first class degree in 1976 and a PhD in 1979.

He moved on to an international research career in the field of biomedical science, a key highlight of which was the discovery of a large family of proteins called ABC transporters. These protein cells underpin the development and diagnosis of many diseases including Cystic Fibrosis.

Before taking up the post as Vice Chancellor he was Head of Division at Imperial College and Director of the pioneering Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Centre. The Centre is globally recognised as an example of good practice in terms of developing a partnership between a research council and a university and its model has been adapted by institutions throughout the world.

He has experience in national policy making and planning for science, and was scientific advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on stem cells. He is committed to the communication and public understanding of science, and regularly comments in the media on issues such as stem cell research and vivisection.

While at Durham, Professor Higgins led the University Orchestra for four years. After graduating, he did not lose touch with Durham. His father, Philip, moved to the University in 1979 as Head of Mathematics, retiring in 1991to live in the area with his wife. One of Professor Higgins’ five daughters, Julia, graduated from Durham in 2005 with a degree in Politics.

Professor Higgins added: “My Durham experience, as student, graduate, parent and now staff member, is one of real personal growth, pleasure and pride. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

“My favourite memories of Durham are in the orchestra pit of the Assembly Rooms Theatre on the North Bailey where I spent more than 100 evenings rehearsing and performing operas and musicals. I still have old programmes from the concerts and recitals I played in.

“I also recall with great affection Durham’s breathtaking cathedral. I will never forget sitting under the main tower performing with the city orchestra.”

For a more detailed biography of Professor Higgins and a definition of the role of Vice-Chancellor, please visit: