Professor Sir Eric Thomas played a critical role in establishing The Conversation in the UK

Professor Sir Eric Thomas FMedSci, former Vice-Chancellor & President of the University of Bristol.

It was with great sadness that staff, Trustees and others across The Conversation community learned of the recent death of one of our UK patrons, Professor Sir Eric Thomas.

Professor Sir Eric, a former Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol, was instrumental in helping The Conversation become established in the UK, not only pledging the support of his institution, but encouraging other university leaders to do likewise. He had a keen sense of the value this project could deliver to researchers and institutions, and continued to voice his enthusiasm for this form of public engagement long after we launched in the UK in 2013.

Nishan Canagarajah, Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Conversation UK and the current current President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, knew Professor Sir Eric well and at meeting of Trustees last week paid tribute to his contribution and commitment to this project and to the UK higher education sector more widely. He added: “I’ve been in touch with his family. The Board of Trustees thanks Eric for his commitment to The Conversation.” Nishan was previously a pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol.

Fellow Patron and former President of City, University of London, Professor Sir Paul Curran, also played a key role in developing higher education sector support for The Conversation UK, and was its founding Chair. In an email to me, he wrote: “The Conversation was made possible by a handful of Vice-Chancellors who were acutely aware that little of the phenomenal research output of our universities reached the very public who had contributed to its production. Eric was one of those Vice-Chancellors, and it was his stalwart support and enthusiastic advocacy, as President of Universities UK, that enabled us collect 20 universities as our Founding Partners.

”We first worked together as Deans [at Southampton] in the 1990s and as VCs in the years that followed and I will remember him as a truly influential figure in UK higher education, as a joint Patron of The Conversation and of course, as a friend.”

Among those who worked closely with Professor Sir Eric ahead of the launch of The Conversation UK, were Andrew Jaspan, creator and founder of The Conversation, and Jonathan Hyams, the first Chief Executive of the project in the UK. With Professor Sir Eric and Professor Sir Paul they built much of the early support base among UK university leaders.

By email, from his home in Melbourne, Australia, Andrew wrote: “Eric was instrumental in helping get TC-UK launched while VC at Bristol University. He provided me with advice, introductions to other Russell Group VCs, and also provided seed funding to allow the launch in 2013. Through his presidency of Universities UK, he also helped raise the profile and network TC-UK.

”He remained a friend and Patron of TC-UK. He also had a warm and wicked sense of humour, and was very a generous and engaging friend.”

Speaking by telephone from Bristol, Jonathan said: “Eric was tremendously generous with his time, and passionately backed the idea of The Conversation.

”Not only did he convincingly make the case to other sector leaders that this would be a great opportunity for them to showcase their universities’ research knowledge, he lent practical support as well. He made office space available where we could conduct interviews and do other preparatory work. I was terribly sorry to hear of his passing.”

All of us at The Conversation internationally send our deepest sympathies to Professor Sir Eric’s family. Läs mer…