Dr Peter Clarke

11th January 2013 at 00:00
A chemist and college principal who believed in making vocational education relevant in the outside world

Peter Clarke, who died late last year at the age of 90, was a chemist and visionary principal who helped to shape the future of one of Scotland's leading modern universities.

An academic who also had extensive experience in industry, he joined Aberdeen's Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology in 1970 with a strong belief in the importance of marrying vocational education with the needs of the real world.

His appointment coincided with the early days of the North Sea oil industry and he set about reorganising the college and looking for opportunities in the expanding energy sector.

Under his tenure, the institute began to offer courses tailored to the lucrative industry and created commercial units such as the hugely successful offshore survival centre that trains thousands of personnel in vital safety drills.

His own roots were in Nottinghamshire where he was brought up in fairly impoverished circumstances during the Depression. His father was unemployed for much of the 1930s - a period when Dr Clarke's mother, a primary teacher, was the main breadwinner.

When he graduated in 1942 from the then University College, Nottingham, with a BSc degree in chemistry, the Second World War was under way and he became shift superintendent of a newly built shadow munitions factory at Ardeer in Ayrshire.

After the war, he returned to Nottingham and gained a teaching certificate. He became senior chemistry master at Buxton College in 1947, the same year he married Ethel. A couple of years later he moved to Huddersfield Technical College as lecturer in organic chemistry. And in 1956 he took a post as assistant chief chemist at British Enka Limited, before being promoted to chief chemist and then technical manager, by which time he had also been elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

During the 1960s he moved up the ranks in academia, arriving in Aberdeen in August 1970. Over the next 15 years he established a course committee system, rearranged RGIT's school structure, and set up faculties of art and architecture, arts, engineering and science. He also extricated RGIT from an agreement with the University of Aberdeen that effectively split up responsibility for teaching different areas of engineering. By gaining responsibility for its own engineering courses, RGIT was free to respond to the educational and training needs of the oil industry.

Dr Clarke retired in 1985, having presided over 15 years in which student numbers had doubled and the institute's reputation had grown considerably, paving the way for it to achieve university status as the Robert Gordon University in 1992.

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