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Prolific academic stepping down

O’Shea to leave Edinburgh University

Tim O'SheaOne of the most senior and prolific of Scotland’s university academics has announced he will be leaving office next year.

Tim O’Shea, principal and vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University, has written to colleagues today informing them of his decision.

He says: “I write to let you know that this afternoon I am informing members of the University Court that I intend to demit office on the 30th September 2017.

“This has been a big decision for me but I feel that at that point, and after 15 years leading our University, it will be time to move on.

“I wish to give the University plenty of time to conduct a full search for my successor and I am confident that by announcing my decision now that will be the case.  You will hear more about the recruitment plans as they begin to take shape.

“I have enjoyed my time at Edinburgh very much and I hope that you feel, as I do, that we have achieved a lot together.

“As ever I look forward to working with you all through the next academic year.”

One source said: “He will leave very large boots to fill.”

Born in Hamburg in 1949, Prof O’Shea is the son of John Patrick O’Shea of Balleen Castle, County Kilkenny, and Elisabet Hedwig Oberhof from Hindenburg, Upper Silesia.

He was educated in Essex and holds a BSc in Mathematics and Experimental Psychology from Sussex University and a PhD in Computer Based Learning from Leeds University.

He worked as a researcher in the Computer Science Department of the University of Texas at Austin, the Bionics Research Lab at the University of Edinburgh and the Systems Concepts Lab, Xerox PARC, California.

In 1978 he founded the Computers and Learning Research Group at the Open University and was promoted to a personal chair in Information Technology and Education in 1986. He was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Open University in 1993.

In 1997 he was elected Master of Birkbeck and subsequently appointed Provost of Gresham College and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of London. He held all three posts concurrently until he returned to Edinburgh as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University in October 2002.

His academic output, produced mainly in collaboration with others and on topics relating to computer based learning, artificial intelligence, and mathematics education, includes 10 books, 22 BBC television programmes and over 100 journal articles.

He has researched Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and during study leave at Stanford University in early 2012 initiated a partnership with Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company that operates a MOOC platform.

In 2014 Debrett’s him in the top 30 technologists among the top 500 most influential people in the UK.

Among his appointments are:

  • Chair of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise
  • Chair of the Board of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society
  • Chair of the Newbattle Abbey College Trust
  • Chair of the Coursera University Advisory Board
  • Convener of the Scottish Government’s Further and Higher Education Sector Oversight Board for Information and Communications Technology
  • A member of the University Council for the All-Party Parliamentary University Group
  • A member of the Scottish Government’s Financial Services Advisory Board
  • A member of the Digital Public Services – Sponsor Board
  • A member of the Governing Council of the Chinese Government’s Confucius Institute Headquarters
  • A member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

He served as the Chair of Jisc (2009-2013), as Universities Scotland’s Vice Convener (2009-2012), as Chair to the Advisory Committee for theESRC / EPSRC’s Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Research Programme (2009-2013), and as Deputy President of the French Government’s Initiatives d’ Excellence en Formations Innovantes (2011-2012).

He has also served two terms both as a Trustee of the British Council and as a member of the main Board of Scottish Enterprise, and was a member of the Strategy Commission for the German Government’s Excellenzinitiative (2009-2013).


His fellowships are from:

  • Birkbeck, University of London
  • The University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute
  • The Royal Society of Edinburgh
  • The European Co-ordinating Committee on Artificial Intelligence
  • The Academy of Social Sciences

He was awarded a University of London Union Laurel for his services to part time students.

He has been given outstanding contribution awards by the governments of Japan and the People’s Republic of China for his work on promoting academic co-operation between Scotland and those two countries.

He holds honorary degrees from Heriot-Watt University, University of Strathclyde, McGill University, and Saint Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Tim was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s 2008 New Year Honours in recognition of his services to higher education.


  • CAPIRE Prize for “Experiments and Technology for Educational Innovation: with special reference to the creative utilisation of computers in science education” – International Committee for Promotion of Advanced Educational Research, Madrid 1992
  • Scottish Leadership Foundation Public Sector Leader Award 2006
  • Council for Advancement and Support of Education Europe Leadership Award 2009

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