The longest-standing university Vice-Chancellor in the country is retiring after 19 years in charge of higher education institutions, the last eight at the University of Birmingham.
Professor Michael Sterling retires this week before handing over the reins at the leading Russell Group university in Edgbaston to Professor David Eastwood, currently chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
He starts in post from Monday April 13.
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.
This has resulted in 19 former individual academic schools now being shaped into five unified colleges, with heads of college now appointed to sit around the decision-making table with the Vice-Chancellor.
Professor Sterling, a former engineer, has also 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.
He 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.”
Whilst at Birmingham, Professor Sterling was chair of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities at a time in higher education history, when the White Paper on tuition fees was being debated and subsequently passed.
He was particularly proud to secure for Birmingham the HEFCE-funded National Higher Education STEM Programme, to increase the number of graduates with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths disciplines to fulfil the needs of employers and boost the UK economy.
He also established the Energy Technologies Institute alongside Nottingham and Loughborough Universities.
Professor Sterling has 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 before the artist was satisfied he had fully captured Professor Sterling’s character.
His successor, 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, he 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.