Remembering Professor Jim Gallacher

Image of Professor Jim Gallacher

On Saturday 31 October this year, a great Scotsman died. Professor Jim Gallacher, for some four decades, was a driving force in the widening of access to higher education in Scotland, and in fostering the development of research in lifelong learning. He was a close personal friend and colleague of mine for over 30 years, and it is with great sadness that I write this account of his work.

I first met Jim in 1988, when he was exploring the creation of access provision in Scotland at the advent of the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). He had come to London to discuss the work that the late Maggie Woodrow was leading at the Open College of South London and somehow was directed towards me at a time when I was running Access Courses in the field of Food Science. It was an unlikely exchange between a sociologist and a chemist, but one that bore fruit for many years. A year later I was appointed to the University of Stirling, and whilst I knew how to develop access provision, my knowledge of the country and of the academic underpinning of the field was limited. A typically warm welcome from Jim and his colleagues, Norman Sharp and Bill Yule, at the then Glasgow College ensured that I had collaborators with common interests to mine and with an academic literacy very different from mine. For the next two decades, with Jim in particular, we established a set of joint initiatives between the now re-christened Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Stirling that have had a lasting impact.

Through the 1990s and into the noughties, this included the establishment of the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning funded by the Scottish Funding Council, the joint online Masters in Lifelong Learning and the delivery of a number of research projects for the Scottish government on Widening Participation and FE/HE links. Jim meantime was being increasingly influential at Scottish and UK level as a member of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) where he was chair of the Access and Inclusion Committee and as Vice-Chair of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL). He was also a member of the Scottish Executive’s Lifelong Learning Forum, and an adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee for their Inquiry into Lifelong Learning.

In what some would call retirement, he seemed no less active. As well as holding an Emeritus Chair at Glasgow Caledonian University, he held honorary chairs at the University of Stirling and the University of the Highlands and Islands and was a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Capital Normal University in Beijing. He continued to be prolific in publication, and only last year was co-editor of the Routledge collection, New Frontiers for College Education: International Perspectives, focusing on the vocational education sector, perhaps his greatest concern over the years.

His achievements were substantial and he touched many people, but it is his humanity and decency that will be remembered most. I have read many messages that have been flowing through many channels over the past few days, and I am sure that those who made the comments below express the feelings of many across the world.

… an unassuming man and genuinely committed to lifelong learning.

Jim was a very good man … this is very sad news … and a terrible shock

… a gentleman in the old fashioned sense of the word, always very pleasant and helpful to his colleagues, especially junior ones, and who was so fully committed to the principles of second chance education and lifelong learning. I owe him and his colleagues at GCU a lot.

…Jim was lovely, always committed and interested in the realities of people’s lives, social justice and how education could play a role. He prompted thoughtfulness and guided many of our ideas around literacies and learning in FE.

…he was such a humane person who showed great commitment to a broad vision of adult education…

Jim was someone I respected and appreciated. He was a really humane and good person.

He was always so gentle, good humoured and generous with his help in what we were trying to do.

Jim was a gentle, intelligent and honest man, whom I liked a lot.

Such a decent human being. And a lot of fun.

… I have fond memories of him. He had a great sense of humour and was always up for a chat and a bit of debate

Some fabulous memories spring to mind. Red wine round his lips. Breaking the glass as he tried to get folks attention for after dinner speech after copious amounts of red wine. Sending me flying more than once on the dance floor at our conference Ceilidhs

I’m sure he will be well remembered by many.

It is so obvious that Jim was the best of men. I owe him a lot, and it is a sadness not to be able to share another lunch with him, something that we did too rarely in recent years. And I won’t have the pleasure of being offered a couple of squares of chocolate again. He always seems to have a part bar of chocolate on his person, showing impressive control in consumption that most of us could not manage. He will be sorely missed, not least of all by Pauline and his sons.

Michael Osborne is Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning at the University of Glasgow 

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