'We're small enough to be friendly but big enough to be serious players'

Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, has been appointed chair of the 1994 Group

Steve Smith, the vice-chancellor of Exeter University, was thrust into the limelight just over a year ago when he sparked public outrage by axeing chemistry at his institution.

He survived the media onslaught, even securing unusually positive student feedback about his university in the National Student Survey last autumn. And this week, after only two years as a vice-chancellor, Professor Smith was appointed chair of the 1994 Group of smaller research-led universities.

He will step into the post vacated by David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, who will become chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

He told The Times Higher : "I am over the moon to be chairing a group of such distinctive universities."

He defined the group, which includes the universities of Bath, Durham, Essex and Lancaster, as "just as strong in research and teaching quality as the Russell Group, but not as big".

Professor Smith walks into the role as the sector digests the potential impact of the demise of the research assessment exercise. He will also be conducting a review of the unique selling points for institutions in the group. "We are small enough to be friendly but big enough to be serious players," he said.

As a former politics academic, Professor Smith should have a head start on how to lobby Parliament.

His career has included positions as director of the Centre for Public Choice Studies at UEA, and senior pro vice-chancellor and head of the department of international politics at Aberystwyth University. During his 29-year academic career, he has contributed to or written 13 books and nearly 100 academic papers and has given more than 150 academic presentations in 22 countries.

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