Sir James Tait, engineer; born June 13, 1912, died February 18, 1998

JAMES Tait was a splendid example of the merits of the Scottish education system. Although a bright and industrious pupil he left school at the age of 14 to earn his living. His father was a professional gardener but he chose to pursue a career in engineering which he began as an apprentice with Glenfield & Kennedy in Kilmarnock and ended, with a knighthood, as the founding vice-chancellor of the City University in London.

As an apprentice, he worked by day and studied at evening classes in Kilmarnock until he won a scholarship to the Royal Technical College in Glasgow. There he gained his ARTC and was invited to join the staff of the electrical engineering department, under Professor Parker Smith, working on research, lecturing, and studying to gain a double first-class honours degree in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (in the London University external examinations) and a PhD from Glasgow University.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Cassidy Linton from Kilmaurs, in 1939 and they remained married unitl his death.

He moved south in 1946 to succeed a fellow Scot as head of the electrical engineering department of the Portsmouth Municipal College, but moved on in 1947 to become head of the electrical engineering department of Northampton Polytechnic before being appointed in 1951 as the principal of Woolwich Polytechnic.

In the mid 1950s concern grew at quantity and quality of engineers being trained in this country and the concept of expanding further education specifically to generate more engineers and scientists evolved. A dozen or so technical colleges, including both the Northampton Polytechnic and the Royal Technical College in Glasgow, were designated as Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATS) to be developed for this purpose. In preparing to make the most of the opportunity Northampton sought a new principal and selected its own former head of the electrical department, James Tait.

The CATS espoused the concept of ''sandwich courses'' in which students worked for alternating periods of six months in industry and in college, partly enabling them to earn money for six months of the year, but partly also to ensure the compatibility of what they were being taught at college with what they actually needed to know to further their careers in industry. James Tait, and many others, had already benefited from this formula in Scotland and he, in particular, was well qualified to develop it.

James Tait was an active member and a Fellow of both the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and served on various of their training committees in helping to promote the correlation between education and employability. He became a member of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers and was made a Freeman of the City of London.

That the RCT prospered as a CAT and became Strathclyde University is history. That one of the men trained at the RCT played a leading role in taking another CAT forward to university status is perhaps less well known in Scotland outside of that university.

The politics involved in the creation and naming of the City University have been described elsewhere but the successful outcome owed much to the tenacity, charm, and good humour of its founding vice-chancellor in leading his team and in overcoming all opposition in a way which left few, if any, wounds.

He was made a member of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor in 1969 for his services to education. His services to the City University were recognised both by the award of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science on his retirement in 1974 and by the naming of the Tait Building.

He was, however, delighted to be asked back to be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from Strathclyde University which he had first entered at the start of his career on a modest, but vital, scholarships with which many Scottish educational establishments were blessed.