Sir Alan Wilson (centre) chief executive of The Alan Turing Institute, professor of urban and regional systems at University College London and chair of the Home Office Science Advisory Council, was awarded a Doctor of Literature honoris causa at the School of Advanced Study’s (SAS) graduation ceremony on 8 December. The honour acknowledges Sir Alan’s outstanding contributions to higher education in a career spanning more than 50 years, during which he built up a reputation for solving complicated problems.
Sir Alan, who is an elected Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society, said he is delighted and humbled by the award. ‘It reflects work I have done with a range of institutions and of course the contributions my colleagues have made in these places are implicitly recognised and I am grateful to them. I am particularly touched to have my contributions to the humanities recognised by this degree.’
In February 2004, he became the government's first director general of higher education and key adviser to three secretaries of state for education – Charles Clarke, Ruth Kelly and Alan Johnson – at a pivotal moment in the history of the sector. As a senior civil servant his duties included helping the government to smooth the way for top-up fees, widen access to higher education and build a deeper relationship with industry.
From 2011–2013, he was chair of the lead expert group for the Government Office for Science’s ‘Foresight future of cities project’, which looked at the opportunities and challenges facing UK cities over the next 50 years and, from 2007–2013, was chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
A mathematician and quantitative geographer, Sir Alan has published extensively including some pioneering papers modelling market potential of city sites and transport and related systems. Many of his model building techniques are in common use internationally - including the use of the concept of entropy in building spatial interaction models. These models have been widely used in areas such as transport planning, demography and economic modelling. He is currently researching the evolution of cities and the dynamics of global trade, migration, security and development aid.
Seventy eight School graduands were awarded postgraduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences at the ceremony in Senate House, of which 17 were awarded Doctor of Philosophy degrees.