Bernard King

Born: May 4, 1946;

Died: April 16, 2024

Professor Bernard King, who has died in Arbroath aged 77, was a driving force in obtaining university status for Abertay when he served as principal of Dundee Institute of Technology.

In 1992 King, a microbiologist by profession, campaigned with much energy to establish Abertay’s clear identity as a modern university concentrating on subjects related to technology. Under his inspired leadership Abertay is now acknowledged as an international leader in its specialist subjects.

King created at Abertay a fresh and invigorating approach to teaching and researching technological subjects: it was an exciting time to be active in such subjects and he grasped the challenge with enthusiasm.

He recognised the importance of these changes – especially after the introduction of the launch of the world’s first video games degree – and introduced a ground-breaking and innovative educational syllabus. Between 1994 and 2004 he instigated exciting courses that moved from traditional engineering and offered greater emphasis on computing, technology, biotechnology, computer gaming, sport and forensics.

Professor Liz Bacon, current principal and vice-chancellor of Abertay, said: “Professor King had a profound impact on the university. It is very much upon his legacy that Abertay’s success was founded. His vision to gain university status and to revise our programme portfolio at a time of huge technological change was a vital step for the institution and has had great benefit for Dundee and the Scottish higher education sector.”

Bernard King was born in Ireland to Bernard and Cathaleen King. He was educated at Dublin College of Technology and then wrote his PhD and did research at Birmingham University.

In 1976 he was appointed a lecturer at Dundee Institute of Technology and in 1987 head of Robert Gordon Institute of Technology. His campaign to merge the two institutions and create Abertay University in 1992 demonstrated his academic acumen and foresight.

The university campus was substantially expanded under his direction, including the award-winning design and build of the Bernard King Library which was opened by the Queen in 1998. Her Majesty warmly commended the university and said that, “Abertay has cemented its reputation as a modern facility with the support of this new library.”

King also pioneered the building of a new student centre which was opened in 2005 and has become the hub of activity of the university hosting many social and academic activities.

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King assembled a close-knit team of technocrats from the outset. The staff and students responded to his imaginative syllabus and became familiar with the choice and variety of subjects on offer. He was, also, being accepted into the wider Scottish university hierarchy – holding various important positions in the academic fraternity such as Convenor of Universities, Scotland. He was an articulate campaigner regarding education in Scotland and spoke with particular authority on behalf of funding in higher education throughout Scotland.

But in 2012 King was involved in a protracted and controversial dispute which saw him resign as principal and vice-chancellor. The Times commented that the complex situation at Abertay was somewhat similar to an episode of Inspector Morse. “The suspension,” it wrote “of the principal and his deputy, amid allegations of infighting and power struggles, has shaken the world of Scottish higher education.”

Matters became more involved as the dispute was between the principal and court members over the timing of his departure from office, on the grounds of, King alleged, his age.

Eventually, the situation was amicably resolved after six months when the university authorities announced that the “retirement” of Professor King had been “confirmed”.

In addition to his university career King was a prominent figure in the Dundee and Tayside community serving as a trustee of Tayside Primary Healthcare Trust, on the board of Scottish Enterprise Tayside and chairman of the Scottish Crop Research Institute. King was an enthusiastic governor of the Unicorn Preservation Society which manages HMS Unicorn moored in the docks at Dundee. It is of much historic interest and is the oldest ship left in Scotland.

King wrote several books and learned papers on technological and scientific matters.

King, who was made a CBE in 2003, was an avid reader, sailor and follower of opera. In 1970 he married Maura Collinge; she and their two daughters survive him.