A university administrator who helped design the UK admissions system that helped young people from deprived backgrounds access higher education has been hailed as the father of a “golden age” for Edinburgh University.
Tributes have been paid to Alex Currie, who served as university secretary for 15 years until 1993 and died in Edinburgh on August 24, aged 88. As one of the most senior figures in UK higher education, he was part of a post-war drive to increase student numbers and make universities a place where all students were welcome, regardless of their backgrounds.
Born in Stevenson, Ayrshire, in 1926, Alexander Monteith Currie was the only child of Mary and Alexander, a chemist specialising in the manufacture of explosives. The family relocated to Wales in 1940 and Mr Currie attended school at Portmadoc Grammar School before enrolling at Bangor University.
He was called up by the Royal Navy, and was trained as a coder. He served on HMS Boxer and HMS King George V, but the war ended before he saw action.
Resuming his studies after being demobilised in 1946, he obtained a BA in 1948 and a BLitt at St Catherine’s College, Oxford with a thesis on Victorian Scottish poetry.
Mr Currie began a 41-year career in university administration at Manchester University in 1952, and married wife Pamela in 1957. After a short stint at Liverpool University, he became registrar and secretary of Sheffield University, the youngest in the UK at the age of 39. The role was a hugely responsible one, with control of all aspects of academic administration, including finance and buildings.
At Sheffield he worked closely with then vice chancellor Sir Hugh Robson, who was subsequently appointed Principal at Edinburgh University. Mr Currie followed as secretary of the university after 13 years at Sheffield, however was unable to renew the working relationship after Sir Hugh’s untimely death.
He was awarded an OBE shortly after starting at Edinburgh and, closer to retirement, was admitted to the Royal Order of the Polar Star (first class) by King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden, for strengthening the links between Scottish and Swedish universities.
Mr Currie was an honorary president of the Edinburgh University Rugby Club, a member of the Rotary Club and president of the Edinburgh Club in 1990. He and his wife were both regular fixtures at receptions and gatherings. As an accomplished after-dinner speaker, Mr Currie was sought after for Burns Night suppers.
Colleagues say Mr Currie had the ability to engage with people from all kinds of backgrounds, being equally comfortable chatting to royalty, a university chancellor, or a janitor.
Mr Currie is survived by his wife of 57 years, Pamela, and their children Alastair and Duncan.