John Nisbet

7th December 2012 at 00:00
A 'great champion' of educational research whose work was respected in Scotland and further afield

One of Scotland's most distinguished educational researchers, Professor John Nisbet, has died, aged 89. His contribution to educational studies, not only in Scotland but internationally, was immense.

He was appointed as an assistant lecturer in the education department at the University of Aberdeen in 1949. His PhD followed three years later in which he examined the effect of family environment on intelligence, and questioned the prevailing assumption that intelligence was inherited - an idea that continued to be central to his thinking.

He later became the holder of the first chair of education at the university. The list of his achievements is impressive: editor of the British Journal of Educational Psychology; chair of the Scottish Council for Research in Education; first president of the British Educational Research Association (BERA); chair of the education research board of the Social Science Research Council. In addition, he served on many national committees and was awarded an OBE for his services to education. An item on the BERA website, reporting on his death, said: "The world of educational research has lost one of its greatest champions."

Professor Nisbet's research output, in the form of books, articles and research reports was well known internationally and he was invited to lecture in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He also collaborated in research programmes in Norway and the Netherlands. Among his projects were studies of the effects of family environment on intelligence, learning strategies, the impact of research on policy and practice, transition to secondary education, and improving thinking skills. His work was primarily empirical and psychological in approach but he took a keen interest in other methodologies and emphasised the importance of collaborative networks and institutional support for research.

Professor Nisbet remained active long after his retirement, supervising PhD students, contributing to seminars, mentoring new members of staff, editing a series of University of Aberdeen education research papers, and in 2005 writing Thirty Years On, his affectionate account of the development of the Scottish Educational Research Association.

Outside education, he was a keen golfer, climber and orienteer and regularly won competitive events. Although well into his eighties and with declining health, he always made a point of attending the lecture series named after his elder brother, the late Professor Stanley Nisbet of the University of Glasgow. Both men were greatly admired and respected by students, colleagues and researchers across Scotland and beyond, not only for their professional achievements but also for their personal qualities of kindness and modesty.

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