John Horlock served as Vice-Chancellor at The Open University from 1981 to 1990.
John Horlock was born in 1928 in North London, and went to school at Edmonton Latymer. In an interview in the New Scientist to mark his appointment as OU Vice-Chancellor he says ‘My family is best described as lower middle-class, with no engineering history in it.’ In the interview he explains that he had decided on an engineering apprenticeship at Shorts, Rochester but his Headmaster instead persuaded him to go to Cambridge University, where he gained a first in mechanical sciences. Horlock worked briefly at Rolls-Royce before returning to Cambridge to gain a PhD. Horlock turned down an offer to return to Rolls-Royce: 'I was concerned that I would be spending most of my time on military applications.'
In 1958 Horlock left Cambridge to become Professor and Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department of Liverpool University, returning to Cambridge as Professor of Engineering in 1967. In both roles he is credited with educational innovations to improved both research and teaching. His academic work on gas turbines, compressors and the jet engine made him a leading figure in a field which transformed transport across the world. In 1974 Horlock became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford, which had become a University only in 1967 and made major progress under his leadership.
Horlock joined the Open University in 1981. His commitment in the field of continuing education, particularly in science and technology was seen as one of the factors leading to his appointment. As a member of the Finniston Committee looking at the engineering profession he was very keen to strengthen the OU in science and engineering. As well as leading the battle against the government over funding cuts, Horlock also ensured the introduction of a taught postgraduate masters programme, oversaw the opening of the Open Business School and the expansion of the OU into Western Europe. After retiring from the OU, Horlock was appointed Treasurer and Vice-President of The Royal Society for five years and was knighted for services to science, engineering and education in 1996. He lives not far from The Open University.
The Horlock building on the Walton Hall campus was opened in opened in 1989. It houses the Faculty of Health and Social Care. Sir John was interviewed for the Oral History Project in 2009. Below is an extract from that interview. A video clip of Sir John addressing OUSA conference is available as part of Funding cuts: the fight back.