University leader and economist;

Born: January 11, 1935; Died: November 22, 2011.

Andrew Skinner, who has died aged 76, was a key figure in the life of the University of Glasgow and a major authority in his academic speciality, the history of economic thought.

Born in Glasgow, Andrew Stewart Skinner was the second of four children of Andrew Paterson Skinner, a Black Isle-born sales executive with the National Cash Register Company.

The younger Andrew's mother, Isabella (nee Bateman), was born in Ayrshire. Brought up in Newton Mearns and in Garelochhead, he was educated at Keil School. He then entered Glasgow University, where he was a member of the Royal Naval Reserve and graduated MA with honours in political economy (economics) and political science in 1958.

He then held a Glasgow-Cornell Exchange Fellowship for a year, an experience he wryly described as his BTA (Been to America). Postgraduate research gained him a BLitt from Glasgow in 1960. He was tutor and assistant lecturer at Queen's University Belfast from 1959 to 1962 and a lecturer at Queen's College, Dundee, between 1962 and 1964.

He then began his meteoric rise in Glasgow's department of political economy (later economics): lecturer from 1964, senior lecturer from 1970, reader from 1975, titular professor from 1977, Daniel Jack Professor from 1985 and Adam Smith Professor from 1994.

He was a dedicated teacher, famed for coherent lectures at all undergraduate levels, and co-authored a textbook on microeconomics in the 1990s. He inspired students (including the current principal, Anton Muscatelli) with his expertise, notably on the age and ideas of Adam Smith, which he taught even after his official retirement in 1997, and which was particularly popular with overseas students.

Professor Skinner was devoted to his department (of which he was head for some years), but soon became a major academic leader beyond its boundaries.

From 1980 to 1983, the difficult period of the Thatcher cuts in universities, he served as dean of Glasgow's faculty of social sciences, straddling the potential divide between his colleagues and the university authorities with great skill and style. For the next 13 years he exercised university-wide leadership, first as clerk of senate (chief academic administrator) to 1990, then as vice principal for the arts-based side of the institution to 1996.

A defender of the university's traditions, Prof Skinner was also a force for constructive change, notably of the switch to devolved faculty-level management in the early 1990s.

A problem solver by nature, he was a major if not always a deferential resource for successive principals. He was a genial colleague for other senior professors and an inspirational mentor to the deans who served under him.

He also represented the university ably on a succession of Scottish university bodies. A product of the relatively stable Scottish university environment of the 1950s, he played a significant role in enabling his ancient university to make a highly successful transition to the more rough and tumble higher education world of the late 20th century and beyond. Fittingly, Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of doctor of the university in 2001.

In addition to his formidable teaching and administration, Prof Skinner was a superb and highly productive scholar. He became a highly respected authority on the very influential political economists of the Scottish Enlightenment, especially Sir James Steuart and that towering figure (and Glasgow professor) Adam Smith.

He was a major force in Glasgow University's highly successful project to commemorate the 1976 bicentenary of Smith's seminal work The Wealth of Nations. That year he published an edition of it (with Roy Campbell and WB Todd) and, with Tom Wilson, edited The Market and the State: Essays in Honour of Adam Smith.

He also produced an edition of Steuart's Principles of Political Economy (1966) and, in 1979, wrote A System of Social Science: Papers relating to Adam Smith.

In 1982 he and Roy Campbell published a biography of Smith and a book of essays on the Scottish Enlightenment. Later, he edited (with P Jones) Adam Smith Reviewed (1992) and produced (with K Haakonssen) an Index to Smith's Works (2001). He published many articles and, though by instinct no globetrotter, travelled the world giving papers at conferences.

Prof Skinner's approach to the history of economic thought was wide-ranging, encompassing philosophy and history as well as economic theory and institutions. Like his great subject Smith, he was an economist, and a social scientist, of very broad interests.

For his highly impressive research achievements he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1988 and of the British Academy in 1993.

This galaxy of accomplishments might suggest a workaholic. Yet Prof Skinner never allowed his huge labours to overwhelm him. Devoid of pretension, he was quietly gregarious, an excellent companion in the College Club, at Senate dinners and over cups of coffee in his office.

He had a lively and irreverent sense of humour, which he shared with his wife, Mary, who survives him (as does his sister Patricia). Together they were generous hosts in their house in a sylvan glen in Cardross, where they shared a passion for dogs and the garden. They refreshed themselves with occasional trips to Portugal and regular sojourns in their caravan in the Highlands.

Universities depend for their vitality on individuals with keen intellects, wide sympathies, generous temperaments and outgoing personalities.

Prof Skinner brought all these qualities, as well as huge achievement, to Glasgow University and to his discipline over a period of almost 60 years. That admirable institution has lost one of the great academics of his time, but his influence endures.