UCL News


Spotlight on Professor Simon Marginson

22 April 2015

This week the spotlight is on Professor Simon Marginson, Director of the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Centre for Global Higher Education.

Simon Marginson

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am Professor of International Education and Director of the UCL Institute of Education Centre for Global Higher Education, which opens in October 2015, and Joint Editor of Higher Education, the main journal in higher education studies. My day job is primarily to organise, plan, implement and write social science research focused on higher education, which is a large, important and under-researched social sector. It's great that the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has recognised the importance of higher education by creating the new research centre. 

I also teach and supervise PhD students, and carry out public communication, policy-related advice and other activities of the kind we now call 'research impacts'. Essentially though I am a writer of non-fiction and a public intellectual. Those are my core functions; the reasons why I am a professor at UCL. I try to ensure the other activities contribute to the conditions necessary to the core functions, or at least don't get in the way too much. It is a constant battle to find enough time to write properly. If writing time ever becomes completely obliterated by the other functions, sadly I will have to quit the job.  

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

The IOE been part of UCL only since December 2014, and I have been part of the IOE only since October 2013. Still learning how to live in the UK, a curious but interesting place. Previously (2006-2013) I was Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. 

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Books. Teaching, doctoral supervision and public work are important but it is through sustained critical contributions to knowledge that social scientists reach the greatest number of people. I'm moderately happy with three books that have gained readers. The best is called Markets in Education. There are two other books that I like but no-one else has noticed!

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

Writing a book called Higher Education. Each week I do as much work on it as I can. At the top of the practical agenda is setting up the UCL Institute of Education Centre of Global Higher Education - kick-starting three research programmes with 13 research projects and ten partner universities, forming the website, and finding an administrator, communications manager and a clutch of brilliant postdocs who will be the next generation in higher education studies.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

What a question. Of current musicians, Peter Gabriel has the most for me. I cannot split the albums So (1986) and Up (2002). The best contemporary writer in English is Cormac McCarthy - his books burn into the brain, but Tolstoy's War and Peace is still my favourite novel. Movie? I don't know. The Coen brothers' Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is great. I'm especially fond of the work of Hayo Miyazaki, and the early to mid period Zhang Yimou films. To Live (1994) is a wonderful movie about people and about modern China. It was banned in China and you can't get it on DVD.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

In Nigel and UKIP there is no end of possibilities for satire, but you can't help asking yourself 'is it really funny?' Maybe, in thirty years time, 'Springtime for UKIP' will be hilarious.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Naomi Klein. Marina Hyde would keep us amused. Of those who have gone, Ho Chi Minh, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Martin Luther King and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

What advice would you give your younger self?


What would it surprise people to know about you?

I won the prize for 'Divinity' in my last year at school for an essay on the topic 'Is God Dead?' 

What is your favourite place?

Kyoto. Traditional Japan.