Economist takes up university role

Frances Cairncross will chair Heriot-Watt's University Court. Picture: contributed
Frances Cairncross will chair Heriot-Watt's University Court. Picture: contributed
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A distinguished economist, journalist and academic is to head the governing body of a Capital university.

Frances Cairncross CBE will chair the University Court at Heriot-Watt from January 1 next year.

Mrs Cairncross, 70, attended Laurel Bank School in Glasgow and spent her teenage years in the city, before moving south to London with her family.

The daughter of economist Sir Alexander Kirkland Cairncross – a former adviser to the UK Government and chancellor of Glasgow University – and niece to Soviet spy John Cairncross, she was born into a high-achieving family and immediately began to carve out a distinguished career for herself.

She went on to read modern history at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and completed an MA in economics at Brown University in the US.

After finishing her studies, she joined The Times as a reporter and worked on the financial staff of The Observer and The Banker, before moving to The Guardian in 1973.

There, she wrote an economics column for several years and edited the women’s page during the height of feminism’s stormy second wave.

In 1984, she left to join The Economist, where among other things she covered the rise of the internet – then in its infancy.

She quickly climbed the magazine’s ranks to become senior editor and then management editor, before leaving journalism behind to pursue a career in academia in 2004.

Her first book, The Death of Distance, a study of the economic and social effects of the internet, was published in 1997 and followed up in 2002 by The Company of the Future.

In 2003, her work was recognised by the Institute of Internal Auditors when she won its annual award for business and management journalism.

For the last ten years, Mrs Cairncross has served as rector of Exeter College, Oxford, focusing much of her efforts on fundraising among the college’s many successful former students.

But her move back north of the Border represents something of a return to her roots.

She said: “I wanted to give back to Scotland a little bit of the benefits I had as a youngster.”

And the mother-of-two, whose eldest daughter, Isabella, 37, completed some of her studies at Heriot-Watt, said that she was “thrilled” to be involved with the university.

She added: “The university’s international strategy is exciting, and it does very well on student satisfaction ratings. I look forward to working with this star of the Scottish university world.”

Mrs Cairncross is married to Hamish McRae, an associate editor of The Independent and one of the country’s most respected financial commentators. She has two daughters – Isabella and Alex, 35.

She lives in London in the same house she has owned since 1973.