'Proud memory’ for Heriot-Watt's new Chancellor

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Professor Sir Geoff Palmer
Professor Sir Geoff Palmer

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer has today been formally installed as the new Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University.

At a service held in the University’s Edinburgh Campus, Sir Geoff, was installed into his role in front of a congregation of around 180 invited guests.

Anyone who knows Sir Geoff understands how much he cares for this University, its values and its people.

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University

As part of his responsibilities as the new Chancellor, Sir Geoff will preside over graduation ceremonies as well as oversee academic awards and honorary degrees, and represent the University at ceremonial occasions.

Sir Geoff said: “To be named as Heriot-Watt’s new Chancellor today with my family by my side, is one of my proudest memories.

“I have, for around five decades now, had an extremely close affiliation with Heriot-Watt. It is a distinctive multi-national and diverse university with campus bases in Dubai, Malaysia and Scotland, with just a third of students based from Scotland, a third from the Dubai and Malaysia and a final third learning online studying the world over.

“Throughout my tenure as Chancellor, I will continue to promote the heritage and values of this great institution and do everything in my power to ensure we continue to deliver the very best learning and teaching environment for our students.”

In 1989, Sir Geoff became Scotland’s first black professor and has had a long association with the University. This began when he completed his PhD in grain science and technology jointly with Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh in the 1960s. He went on to a successful research career in Surrey before moving back to Heriot-Watt University in 1977 where he worked until his retirement in 2005.  During that time, Sir Geoff invented the barley abrasion process, the success of which attracted funding to establish the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling as part of the Heriot-Watt campus in Edinburgh.

Sir Geoff was knighted in the 2014 New Year’s Honours for services to human rights, science and charity. In 2018, he was appointed Jamaica's first Honorary Consul in Scotland and is the 2020 recipient of the Jamaican national honour, the Order of Distinction (Commander Class). Earlier this year he was recognised with a Pride of Scotland Lifetime Achievement Award for his brewing process discovery and for being a human rights champion.

Alongside his academic work, Sir Geoff is a board member of many charitable and equality organisations, including the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. He was also made a Freeman of Midlothian in 2012.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, Professor Richard A. Williams, said: “Professor Sir Geoff Palmer’s appointment as our new Chancellor is a time for us to come together and celebrate as a global University community.

“Anyone who knows Sir Geoff understands how much he cares for this University, its values and its people. As Chancellor, he has a critical role in elevating Heriot-Watt’s reputation across the globe and I can think of no-one better to lead us in this endeavour.

“Sir Geoff is a long-standing advocate of Heriot-Watt having first become involved with the University in the 1960s when he completed his PhD in grain science and technology. Since then he has gone on to enjoy numerous achievements, too many to list, and is an inspiring figure to many. It is with a great sense of pride that I welcome Sir Geoff as our new Chancellor today and I look forward to working closely with him in the years ahead.”    

This view was echoed by the Student Union President at Heriot-Watt University, Emily Lucy King, who was among the first to welcome the new Chancellor. She said: “Sir Geoff is a much loved and inspirational figure at this University and the Students’ Union is extremely proud that he is now our new Chancellor.

“On a personal note, I am looking forward to working closely with Sir Geoff in helping deliver the best possible experience for all students.”

Sir Geoff takes over from Dr Robert M. Buchan, a mining entrepreneur and philanthropist, who stood down after almost eight years in the role.

In 2021, Heriot-Watt University celebrates the 200th anniversary of its founding in Scotland. From its beginnings as the world’s first mechanics institute in the heart of Edinburgh, two centuries of innovation have led to what is today a unique international institution with campuses in the UK, Dubai and Malaysia.

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