Oration for Professor Paul Boyle

On the award of an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Lancaster University on 18 July 2014


It is my honour to present, on behalf of the Senate, Professor Paul Boyle, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Precisely 28 years ago there was a student sitting in one of the front rows here in the Great Hall, about to graduate with an honours degree in Geography. Five years later, in 1991, having undertaken high-quality doctoral research, he sat in much the same place, about to receive the award of Doctor of Philosophy. Today, that same student, Paul Boyle, stands before you, about to receive a third degree from Lancaster University. But this degree has been earned in a different way, without (he will be pleased to know) any examination; rather, we are here to honour Paul Boyle as a distinguished alumnus of this University.

For those of us who taught him, it was not difficult to mark Paul Boyle out as an exceptionally talented and highly motivated student, one who took care to avail himself of every opportunity, for example spending a year at the University of Colorado on an exchange. After graduation Paul remained at Lancaster to undertake doctoral research that sought to understand and model migration flows in the West Midlands. Paul then took up a Lectureship at the University of Wales, Swansea before moving to the University of Leeds, during which time he spent a year as a visiting Professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. In 1999 he left Leeds to take up a chair in Human Geography at the University of St Andrews. There he also became Warden of St Salvator’s Hall (popularly known as “Sally’s”) and watched the romance blossom between two students, William Wales and Catherine Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

For many years Paul’s research interests have been in population and health geography. For example, his research on the geography of health, including health inequalities and the clustering of diseases, is highly regarded and widely cited. A particular interest has been to establish the extent to which internal migration within the UK alters the relationships between mortality and socio-economic deprivation. In other work he has examined impact of travel time to health centres on patient outcomes, the influence of the journey to work on mental health, and the influence of family migration on women’s employment opportunities. Developing these interests, he became President of the British Society for Population Studies in 2007. He has long been a respected quantitatively-minded social scientist and geographer and has always had a keen interest in the analysis of large data sets – what is now more commonly known as ‘big data’. One of Paul’s former colleagues relates that Paul has a talent for seeing how large data sets can be used to answer novel questions. He has inspired those who have worked with him on such analyses to push the boundaries of their own skills and abilities.

While at St Andrews, Paul developed, and secured funding for, a new Longitudinal Studies Centre for Scotland, mirroring that already in existence in England and Wales. This major resource now links data from various routine administrative sources for a sample of the Scottish population and is one of the largest studies of its type in the world. He also became Co-Director of the Centre for Population Change and was a Co-Investigator on the Administrative Data Liaison Service. All these initiatives have been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It therefore surprised no-one when he was invited to become Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in 2010, responsible for a budget of £200 million. Paul finishes as Chief Executive this summer and becomes Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester in October.

In addition to running a major Research Council Professor Boyle took on, in October 2011, the role of President of Science Europe (the first time a British scientist has held this role). He has therefore been responsible for championing science in Europe on behalf of all seven UK Research Councils and has, more recently, taken on responsibility for wider international strategy, including liaising with counterparts in China, India and the USA.

These responsibilities necessitate a vast amount of international travel and the disruption that this entails. All this travel and these many commitments might suggest that Professor Boyle leaves no time for other pursuits. This assumption would be wholly incorrect. Paul has long been an active sportsman, continuing to play football, but also running and cycling. Soon after graduation he cycled the length of Vietnam and across India. Such sports pursuits (including cricket) were very much a part of his life as a student and I’m sure he is delighted to see the outstanding sports facilities that we now enjoy on campus.

The University is proud to recognise Paul Boyle’s many achievements since he first graduated. He is a social scientist and geographer of distinction, as well as being respected and admired for his ability to get on with everyone, regardless of their status or background. Leicester University is very fortunate that he will be leading that institution in the years ahead, and Lancaster University is delighted to be honouring him today. 

Vice-Chancellor, it is my honour to present, on behalf of the Senate, Professor Paul Boyle, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Professor Tony Gatrell
Public Orator Alternate
Lancaster University