Professor Sir Robert Burgess 1947 — 2022

  • UKCGE
The UK Council for Graduate Education are saddened to hear of the death of Bob Burgess, founding Chair of UKCGE. 

The UK Council for Graduate Education is saddened to hear of the death of Professor Sir Robert Burgess, the founding Chair of UKCGE.

Professor Burgess, known to all as Bob, was a champion of postgraduate education in the UK.

Bob, a sociologist, received his BA from the University of Durham in 1971 and his PhD from the University of Warwick in 1981. Following his PhD, Bob remained at Warwick as a sociology lecturer, being appointed Professor in 1987 and Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor in 1995. In 1999, Bob was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester until his retirement in 2014.

It was while he was at the University of Warwick, in 1994, that Bob founded the UK Council for Graduate Education. Observing that the postgraduate education sector lacked a representative organisation, the Council created a place where members could share knowledge, emerging practice and experience for the benefit of everyone in the sector. We are proud to continue this work.

Professor Doug Cleaver, Chair of UKCGE, said:

We are extremely saddened to hear of the death of Professor Sir Bob Burgess, and our thoughts are with his family at this time. Bob’s inspiring leadership and enthusiasm were fundamental to the establishment and the initial success of the UK Council for Graduate Education. His vision for collective leadership across the postgraduate sector continues to guide the principles of the Council. 
Professor Doug Cleaver, Chair of UKCGE

Tributes to Sir Bob Burgess

In tribute, Professor Rosemary Deem, said:

I first met Bob Burgess a long time ago when he and I were ordinary lecturers active in the British Sociological Association. Bob was an inspirational person in the field of doctoral education. As well as successfully supervising many doctoral students himself and examining many doctoral theses, he set up and for several years ran, Warwick University’s Graduate School, which was the first of its kind in the UK.

Bob also made a huge contribution to doctoral studies in several other ways too. He researched doctoral education, including training schemes and he also wrote a good deal on qualitative social science research methods used by many doctoral researchers and their supervisors. He organised many workshops and other events for doctoral candidates and academics.

He was for some years Chair of ESRC’s Postgraduate Training Board. In 1994 he set up UKCGE, to overcome what he saw as a neglect of organisations in the UK catering for graduate study at Masters and Doctoral level and he was delighted that it continued to prosper long after his own close involvement with it.

When Bob became Vice-Chancellor of Leicester in 1999, he still remained as open and sociable as he had been before (just with much more demanding tasks) and would happily talk to any postgraduate student he encountered, whether from his university or not. Bob’s passing leaves a huge hole in the postgraduate field that will never be filled.

Our thoughts are with his wife Hilary, also an academic, who herself has contributed particularly to work on professional doctorates.”

Professor Rosemary Deem, Honorary Life Member, UKCGE


In tribute, Professor Stan Taylor said:

I first met Bob in October 1973 at an induction event for new lecturers at Warwick, and soon got to know him as modest, kind, friendly, and empathetic, with a wicked dry sense of humour. 

Subsequently it became evident that he was also a born leader who seemed to carry people with him effortlessly as he rose through ranks in the university culminating in his appointment in 1991 as a Pro Vice Chancellor. His achievements in that capacity included the establishment of a Graduate Teaching Assistant scheme to support PhD students and a Graduate School, both the first in Europe in their day. 

Outside Warwick, in 1994 he was of course the driving force behind the UKCGE as the champion for postgraduate education in a world then almost totally dominated by undergraduate priorities. 

In 1999, he became the Vice Chancellor of Leicester and turned round what had been an ailing institution to its present eminence, and in 2010 he was knighted for this and many other services to higher education. 

But despite his stellar career, he remained the same affable and avuncular person I first knew nearly half a century ago.

Higher education in general, and postgraduate education in particular, has lost not just a great leader and innovator, but a genuinely nice man as well.”

Professor Stan Taylor, Honorary Life Member, UKCGE

The Sir Bob Burgess Lecture

To celebrate Bob’s contribution to both the UK Council for Graduate Education and to the postgraduate education community, we are delighted to establish the Bob Burgess Lecture. The inaugural event will take place at the UKCGE’s 2022 Annual Conference at the University of Birmingham on the 30th June. More details will be published shortly.