Geoffrey Crowther

Remembering the OU's first Chancellor, Baron Crowther of Headingley

Audio: Lord Crowther's Inaugural address
Duration: 00:12:10
Date: 1969
Clip: Construction of the OU Campus
Duration: 00:04:52
Date: 1982

The next feature in our series about pioneering staff of The Open University highlights Geoffrey Crowther.

Geoffrey Crowther (1907-1972) served as Chancellor to The Open University from its foundation in 1969 to his death in 1972.

Crowther was born in Leeds (13th May 1907) and studied at the University of Cambridge. After a short period in US academia, he became an economic adviser to the Irish government on the recommendation of John Maynard Keynes. He joined The Economist in 1932 and served as Editor from 1938 until 1956, although he also worked in government during the Second World War.

Between 1956 and 1960 Crowther was chairman of the Central Advisory Council for Education, publishing "The Crowther Report - fifteen to eighteen", which led to an increase in the school leaving age to 16 in 1972. In 1969 he was appointed as the first Chancellor of The Open University.

Geoffrey Crowther was installed as OU Chancellor at the first meeting of the Congregation of the University on 23 July 1969 at the Royal Society. This was combined with the award of the Charter by the Privy Council, and was attended by the Prime Minister. It was on this occasion that Lord Crowther gave his speech describing the new university as open as to people, places, methods and ideas: the University’s mission statement to this day.

The audio recording of Baron Crowther's speech is available on the right of this page. A video clip showing a small section of the Charter Ceremony and Crowther's speech is also on the OU Digital Archive via the related items list below.

On the 18th May 1970 Baron Crowther welcomed Lord Mountbatten to the University to officially open the new buildings on the OU Walton Hall campus. The video clip on the right is taken from Open Forum 76 (1982). The clip starts with views of the University campus during the early construction and then includes an excerpt of the ceremony to open the new buildings with Lord Mountbatten in 1970.

Geoffrey Crowther died suddenly in 1972. In his book about the early years of the University, Walter Perry, the first Vice Chancellor, wrote about Crowther:

In the difficulties of the early years my task as Vice Chancellor was greatly eased by his backing. He had a mind of exceptional quality, and seemed unfailingly able, having listened to garbled accounts of a complex problem, to isolate the critical issues and state them with complete clarity. I never heard him make an irrelevant comment. It was a privilege to have gained his friendship. It was a tragedy that his early death was to rob the University of his services after all too short a period of office.

Walter Perry, Open University; A personal account by the first Vice-Chancellor, 1976.