Alan Gilbert (Australian Academic)
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Alan Gilbert Australian Academic

Alan David Gilbert
Born(1944-09-11)11 September 1944
Brisbane, Australia
Died27 July 2010(2010-07-27) (aged 65)
Manchester, England
Alma materAustralian National University
Nuffield College, Oxford

Alan David Gilbert AO (11 September 1944 - 27 July 2010) was an Australian historian and academic administrator who was until June 2010 the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester. During his tenure (1996-2004) as vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, he pushed for and established Melbourne University Private, a private university offshoot which ultimately failed. This, and his well-known controversial views on private funding of universities, led to Richard Davis in 2002 dubbing him the "doyen of economically rationalist vice-chancellors".[1]

The building named as Alan Gilbert in University of Melbourne

Professor Gilbert died on 27 July 2010 in hospital in Manchester, having suffered from a serious illness for the last few months of his life.[2]

Early academic career

Gilbert graduated with a first class BA at the Australian National University in 1965, then took an MA in history and took a post as lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea in 1967. He gained a scholarship at Nuffield College, Oxford and he was awarded a DPhil in 1973.

He returned to Australia as a lecturer at the University of New South Wales, where he established an academic reputation as an historian working in the social, socio-economic and religious history of modern Britain and Australia.

He was appointed professor of history in the Faculty of Military Studies in 1981. He was elected as a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 1990.[3] He became chair of the Faculty of Military Studies in 1982, and later pro-vice chancellor of the University of New South Wales (1988-1990). In 1991 he became vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Tasmania at the time of the merger of the university with the Launceston CAE.

University of Melbourne

In 1996 Gilbert was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne. He played the key role in establishing and subsequently developing Melbourne University Private Limited (MUP), a private university established to work alongside the University of Melbourne, so as to circumvent regulations strictly limiting the money-making educational ventures of Australian universities. This was pursued despite numerous buildings on campus in serious states of disrepair and inadequate funding to allow lecture theatres to be heated. The venture was a financial disaster and was widely criticised by academics, politicians and the media. To rescue MUP, the University Council borrowed $150 million from the National Australia Bank and agreed to provide additional money from its investment reserves. The present University of Melbourne VC, Glyn Davis, announced the closure of MUP on 7 May 2005, citing no need for such a venture now that market ventures are permitted in the public university sector, and their plans to integrate most of MUP back into the public university. Gilbert declined to comment on the actions of his successor. The building originally intended for MUP, and now a part of the public university, has been named the Alan Gilbert Building.

Over the course of his tenure, Gilbert attracted the ire of both students and staff. For example, a staff strike took place on 22 October 1999 over lack of clarity over pay and conditions; administrative offices were occupied by students protesting introduction of fee-paying places in 1997, and again in April 2001, when there were 70 arrests.[4]

Off Course: From Public Place to Market Place at Melbourne University, claims that Professor Gilbert left the university a "quasi-privatised institution in the corporate mould".[5]

University of Manchester

Gilbert left the University of Melbourne to be appointed president and vice chancellor of the new University of Manchester in England, an institution established in October 2004 by the merger of the Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST.[6] He was quoted as saying he had "no plans for a private university of Manchester",[7] although he is said to advocate performance-related pay, a position thought likely to put him in conflict with the university lecturers union, the UCU.[7]

Gilbert's plans for the new university were ambitious:

Our aim is to make the University of Manchester one of the top 25 research-led universities in the world. It will be an educational and research powerhouse that is at home in England's North-West and committed to regional as well as national and international agendas. Without seeking to emulate the social cachet of Oxbridge or America's Ivy League, it will take its place confidently alongside those virtuoso institutions in its research capability and performance, in the quality of the students and staff that it attracts and in the reputation for scholarly excellence that it secures.

According to the university's strategic plan[8] (largely a copy of his earlier and now abandoned Melbourne Agenda (2002)[9]) the university aims to have five Nobel Laureates on its staff by 2015, at least two of whom will have full-time appointments, and three of which it is intended to secure by 2007. During Gilbert's tenure as vice chancellor, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, was appointed the head of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at Manchester, and Sir John Sulston was appointed to a chair in the Faculty of Life Sciences. After Gilbert's death Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both of whom were appointed before Gilbert moved to Manchester, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.

Gilbert continued:

By investing heavily in world class people and offering them state-of-the-art facilities, we aim to make the University of Manchester a destination of preference for many of the best students, teachers, researchers and scholars in the world. More than anything else, the success of the Manchester 2015 Agenda will be driven by the impact of internationally pre-eminent researchers and research clusters on the scholarly culture of the University generally.

Central to Project Unity, the name given to the plan to merge, was the idea of extending the Golden Triangle of Oxford Cambridge and the London universities UCL and Imperial to a Golden Quadrilateral. "With this work much progress has been made" by the results for 2008.[]

Gilbert's address to the university during the inauguration ceremony in the Whitworth Hall on 22 October 2004 made it very clear that he believed the plan was achievable and listed five key elements in the transition from Good to Great, quoting the book of that title by Jim Collins.

One of the intentions of Gilbert's 2015 agenda was an improvement in Manchester's position in international league tables. In 2004 the university ranked 78th in the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities, which rose to 53rd in 2005 following the merger with UMIST. Progress continued over the next few years, with the university being ranked 50th in 2006, 48th in 2007, and 40th in 2008, before falling back to 41st in 2009. This ranking measures indicators such as Nobel Prize winners and highly cited authors 154 are listed on ISI, for Manchester,[10] and has improved partly as a result of the appointment of such people. Gilbert has been quoted in an interview[11] as saying that "there is only one ranking that matters--the world ranking of global universities produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University".

Up to 2007 £388.5m had been spent on new buildings,[12][13] funded in part by government grants and sale of other assets. However, Gilbert announced that due to increases in salary costs, energy bills and lower than expected revenue the university was about £30m (5% of its annual turnover) in deficit. Gilbert announced plans for 400 redundancies[14] and he and the university management were criticised by the University and College Union.[15] However Gilbert had as of 2007 honoured his pledge to achieve the staff reductions without compulsory redundancies, and in October 2007 announced that the university's budget had been brought in to "a modest surplus" as a result mainly of a voluntary redundancy scheme.[16][17][18]

In 2008 Gilbert announced a "root-and-branch review" of Manchester's teaching quality that the university's 'strategy to join the world's elite universities will be worthless unless staff can be 're-invented' to interact more with students".[19]

In the aftermath of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise Gilbert is quoted by Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell as saying to the Senate of the university[20]

It is vital for the University to be strengthening its research profile through research selectivity (in the sense of investing in quality and divesting in [sic] mediocrity) and research concentration (in the sense of investing to develop and/or sustain world leading clusters of supreme excellence). If we do not make major progress on that research re-profiling agenda over the next year or so we will have lost a priceless opportunity.

On 14 January 2010, the University of Manchester announced Alan Gilbert would be retiring from his position as president and vice chancellor of the university.[21] Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell was then appointed acting vice chancellor. Her appointment as the new vice chancellor was announced on 21 June 2010.[22]

October 2012 saw the opening of the Alan Gilbert "Learning Commons",[23] named in honour of the former president. This building provides a variety of state of the art individual and group study facilities, and is managed by the University of Manchester Library.

Personal life

Professor Gilbert was survived by his wife, Ingrid, whom he married in 1967, and their daughters, Michelle and Fiona.[24]


  • 1973: The Growth and Decline of Nonconformity in England and Wales, with special reference to the period before 1850: an historical interpretation of statistics of religious practice. Thesis (D.Phil.)--University of Oxford (Nuffield College).
  • 1976: Religion and Society in Industrial England: church, chapel and social change, 1740-1914. London: Longman ISBN 0-582-48323-9
  • 1977: Churches and Churchgoers: patterns of church growth in the British Isles since 1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press (with Robert Currie & Lee Horsley)
  • 1980: The Making of Post-Christian Britain: a history of the secularization of modern society. London: Longman
  • 2004: The Idea of a 21st Century University. (Audenshaw Papers; 208.) Torquay: Hinksey Network (8-page pamphlet)


  1. ^ Biggs, John; Davis, Richard, eds. (2002), The subversion of Australian universities, Wollongong: Fund for Intellectual Dissent
  2. ^ Professor Alan Gilbert, The University of Manchester, 27 July 2010
  3. ^ "Academy Fellows: Professor Alan Gilbert". Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Archived from the original on 6 October 2009. Retrieved 2014.
  4. ^ "Transcript of the Prime Minister, The Hon. John Howard M.P., Radio Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW". Commonwealth of Australia. 6 April 2001. Archived from the original on 13 April 2001. Retrieved 2014.
  5. ^ Curtis, Polly (16 February 2004), "Book targets Manchester's 'corporate' vice-chancellor", The Guardian On-line, London, retrieved 2010
  6. ^ "The international rescue", The Independent, London, 27 November 2003, retrieved 2010[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ a b Coleman, Oli (16 February 2004). "G'Day Mate! UoM Welcomes a Vice Chancellor Under Fire". Student Direct. Archived from the original on 15 August 2004. Retrieved 2014.
  8. ^ 2015 goals, The University of Manchester
  9. ^ The 'Melbourne Agenda' (PDF), The University of Melbourne
  10. ^ ISI Web of Knowledge, retrieved 2008[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Boone, Jonathan (29 April 2007), "Interview: Manchester University president Alan Gilbert", Financial Times, archived from the original on 11 July 2011
  12. ^ Thame, David (31 July 2007), "Cash-strapped uni sells assets", Manchester Evening News
  13. ^ University staff cuts criticised, BBC News, 16 March 2007, retrieved 2010
  14. ^ Qureshi, Yakub (9 March 2007), "400 university jobs could go", Manchester Evening News
  15. ^ Carrothers, Richy (16 March 2007), "Union slams Manchester University job cuts", University and College Union
  16. ^ Lipsett, Anthea (6 September 2007), "Manchester breaks £30m debt 'crisis'", The Guardian, London
  17. ^ "VC blogs", The Australian, 12 September 2007, archived from the original on 12 September 2012
  18. ^ Qureshi, Yakub (30 October 2007), "Job cuts 'may hit world class bid'", Manchester Evening News, Alan Gilbert said they have managed to balance their books
  19. ^ "Elites must teach better, says v-c", Times Higher Education, 7 February 2008
  20. ^ Research Profiling Exercise 2009, retrieved 2010[dead link]
  21. ^ President and Vice Chancellor to retire News website, University of Manchester 14 January 2010
  22. ^ New President and Vice-Chancellor for The University of Manchester News website, University of Manchester 21 June 2010
  23. ^ "Alan Gilbert Learning Commons". University of Manchester. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  24. ^ The Guardian 9 Aug 2010 Alan Gilbert obituary

Further reading

  • Cain, John; Hewitt, John (2004), Off Course: from public place to marketplace at Melbourne University, Scribe Publications, ISBN 978-1-920769-09-3
  • Collins, Jim (2001), Good to Great, Random House Business Books, ISBN 978-0-7126-7609-0
  • Markwell, Donald, "Alan Gilbert: the leader as story-teller and entrepreneur", in "Instincts to lead": on leadership, peace, and education, Connor Court, 2013.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Vice-Chancellor of The University of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Preceded by
David Penington
Vice-Chancellor of The University of Melbourne
Succeeded by
Glyn Davis
Preceded by
Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester
Succeeded by
Nancy Rothwell

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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