Chris Higgins

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Professor Chris Higgins has been the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University in the United Kingdom since April 2007.[1] His academic background is in biomedical science, though an early passion was the violin; he has described himself as a "failed musician". He briefly attended the Royal College of Music before switching to science degree at Durham in the 1970s, where he claims to have spent more time leading the University Orchesta than working in the labs; nevertheless, as a scientist he has described himself as "tough on woolly thinking" and has named Charles Darwin as a role model.[2]

Professor Higgins[3] was previously Director of the UK's Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Centre and Head of Division at Imperial College London's Faculty of Medicine. In the former role his name would crop up in the media; for example, in 2006 he warned that animal rights extremists may force UK researchers abroad, where laxer animal welfare legislation could lead to even more suffering.[4] He maintains a seat at the Human Genetics Commission, a government advisory body, and is chair of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), which advises the UK government on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)[5] and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).[6]

Higgins is a Durham graduate, having achieved a BA in Botany there in 1976. This was followed by a Durham PhD in 1979.[7] His background in biomedicine developed at the University of Dundee, Scotland and the University of California, Berkeley.[8]

Higgins's family is closely tied to Durham; his parents live there, and his father was made head of the University's Mathematics Department shortly after Higgins's graduation in 1979. His daughter, Julia, graduated from Durham in 2005.[9]


  1. Higgins succeeded Sir Kenneth Calman as Vice-Chancellor; see 'Vice-Chancellor retires from Durham University.' Durham University.
  2. Higgins (2007: 4).
  3. Not to be confused with the fictional phonetician from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. This link to linguistics is the fourth in a recent chain found in the higher echelons of Durham: previous Chancellor Sir Peter Ustinov was multilingual; his successor Bill Bryson has written on popular linguistics topics; and Higgins's predecessor Sir Kenneth Calman controversially presided over the closure of the Linguistics Department at Durham University.
  4. New Scientist: 'Animal activists flee UK clampdown'. 13th May 2006. Requires login.
  5. Commonly known as 'Mad Cow Disease'.
  6. Durham University: 'Durham appoints top scientist as Vice-Chancellor.'
  7. Higgins (1979).
  8. Durham 21 student newspaper: Durham to appoint Higgins as Vice-Chancellor.'
  9. Higgins (2007: 4).