Sir Alan Wilson#


Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Darlington and The University of Cambridge, (Mathematics, Corpus Christi College, BA, 1960, MA, 1964).

Professional History
  • 2007 - present Professor of Urban and Regional Systems, UCL
  • 2007 - present Chairman, Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • 2006 - 2007 Master, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
  • 2004 - 2006 Director-General for Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills, London
    I was responsible for establishing a new Higher Education Directorate and for advising Ministers on a budget of £6.5Bn supporting universities and colleges and a budget of £2Bn in student finance. The Directorate had groups working on teaching and widening participation, research, international policies, employer engagement and student support. It worked closely with HEFCE, the Student Loan Company and related Government Departments such as Health, the DTI, DCLG and the Treasury. I chaired reviews of university admissions, schools science education and the research assessment exercise.
  • 2004 - 2006 Visiting Professor, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London.
    This provided an academic (and collaborative) base for my research and publications while I was at DfES.
  • 1991 - 2004 Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds; 1989 - 1991: Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds.
    The University grew from a student population of 11,000 to one of over 33,000. The research income more than quadrupled, from £13M to over £70M and turnover trebled from around £100M to over £320M. In the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, over 70% of the University’s staff were graded 5 or 5*. The University achieved consistently high teaching ratings. These developments were driven by a major change programme. The governance and management of the institution have been fundamentally restructured - with budgets and income-generating incentives delegated to departments within the focused framework of a succession of corporate plans. Effective management teams have been put in place in the University at all levels and I was in a position to lead – and to achieve consensus - through chairing the senior management team, Academic Development Committee, Planning and Resources Committee and the Senate.
  • 1970 - 2004 Professor of Urban and Regiopnal Geography, University of Leeds; now Emeritus Professor; 1990 - 2000, co-founder and Director, GMAP Ltd.
    I have been an active researcher throughout this period (and to the present) as well as teaching and undertaking spells of Head of Department and Faculty Chair. I have authored or co-authored sixteen books (from Entropy in urban and regional modelling in 1970, to Complex spatial systems, published in 2000) and over two hundred papers. My research interests have been concerned with many aspects of mathematical modelling and the use of models in planning in relation to all aspects of cities and regions. They are described in more detail in the Research section below.
    From 1985, with Professor Martin Clarke, I developed a particular interest in applied research and this was formalised in GMAP Ltd in 1990. Projects - mainly concerned with market development and strategy - were undertaken for a wide range of public and private sector institutions. In November 1997, by which point GMAP was employing 120 staff, R. L. Polk Inc. purchased the automotive part of GMAP and the remaining business was sold to the Skipton Building Society in 2000.
  • 1968 - 1970 Assistant Director, Centrre for Environmental Studies, London.
    The Centre was jointly funded by the Ford Foundation and the then Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I was responsible for building an in-house research team and for running a research grants programme. I established the early part of my own research career here.
  • 1966 - 1967 Mathematical Adviser and Head of the Mathematical Advisory Group, Ministry of Transport, London.
    The Unit was part of the Economic Planning Directorate and I was responsible for building a team, which became about 40 strong, to develop computer models of transport systems to underpin planning and policy development.
  • 1964 - 1966 Research Officer, Institute of Economics and Statistics, University of Oxford.
    My role in a transport economics project was to develop mathematical models on transport systems which could be used to underpin cost-benefit analysis of large projects. It was in this period that I developed entropy-maximising models.
  • 1961 - 1964 Scientific Officer, Theoretical Physics Group, Rutherford Laboratory.
    I was responsible for writing the software and developing the techniques for real-time analysis of bubble chamber events for experiments on elementary particles being carried out by British research groups at CERN in Geneva.

Other appointments (Non-executive)
  • 1979 - 1982 Member, Kirklees Area Health Authority
  • 1982 - 1985 Vice-Chairman, Dewsbury Health Authority
  • 1986 - 1988 Vice-Chairman, Environment and Planning Committee, Economic and Social Research Council
  • 1991 - 1993 Chairman, Leeds Schools’ Commission
  • 1993 - 1994 Chairman, NHS Complaints Review Committee
  • 1994 - 1996 Member, Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authority
  • 1994 - 2000 Chair, British Library, Advisory Committee on Document Supply
  • 1996 - 2002 Board of Universities UK
  • 1999 Department of Trade and Industry, Biotechnology Cluster Group
  • 1998 - 2002 Chair, Research Policy Group, Universities UK
  • 2000 - 2004 Member, Economic and Social Research Council
  • 2000 - 2003 Chairman, Board of the Worldwide Universities Network
  • 2004 - 2005 Chair, Higher Education Group for the Education and Culture component of the Olympic bid
  • 2007 - present Chair, SCORE, the Royal Society’s partnership project on science education
  • 2007 - present Chair, British Academy Steering Group, Promotion of the arts and humanities and the social sciences

Learned Societies
  • 1991 Member, Academia Europaea
  • 1994 Fellow, British Academy
  • 1996 Fellow, City and Guilds of London Institute
  • 2000 Academician, Academy of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences
  • 2002 Chartered Geographer, Royal Geographical Society
  • 2006 Fellow, Royal Society

Prizes and awards
  • 1978 Gill Memorial Award, Royal Geographical Society
  • 1987 Honours Award, Association of American Geographers
  • 1992 Founder’s Medal, Royal Geographical Society
  • 2003 Honorary Fellow, University College London
  • 2004 Honorary Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
  • 2004 Laureat d’honneur, International Geographical Union
  • 2004 European Prize, Regional Science Association
  • 2007 Fellow of the Regional Science Association International

Honorary degrees
  • 2002 D.Sc., Pennsylvania State University
  • 2004 D.Univ., Bradford University
  • 2004 LLD, University of Leeds
  • 2004 D.Ed., Leeds Metropolitan University
  • 2006 LLD, University of Teesside

  • 2001 Knighted for services to higher education, Queen’s Birthday Honours list

Invited talks
  • May 2008 the Julia Bodmer Memorial Lecture, University of Oxford
  • September 2008 Plenary Lecture, Regional Science Association International, Liverpool
  • September 2008 Paper to Symposium on Statistical Mechanics and Regional Science, Liverpool
  • November 2008 Centre for GeoSpatial Science, University of Nottingham
  • November 2008 Leadership Foundation seminars for Pakistani Vice-Chancellors, University of Luton
  • March 2009 Leadership Foundation seminars for Pakistani Vice-Chancellors, University of Bradford
  • March 2009 Complexity Science Conference, LSE
  • June 2009 Foundation for Science and Technology, Cities and science (with the Mayor)
  • June 2009 Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Arts and Social Sciences and Public Policy


Although my main roles for a number of years before joining UCL in August 2007 have been managerial, I have always maintained my research as evidenced by my having four publications for each of successive RAEs. I would argue that my research has been paradigm shifting on a number of dimensions as described below and that this is evidenced by my election as an FBA in 1994 and an FRS in 2006. I remain very active in research, most recently in identifying the wider applicability of the models I have developed in network science – as argued in a recent paper in a Royal Society journal and I have written a number of papers in the run-up to the start of a major ESRC grant later in 2008.

I have authored or co-authored sixteen books (from Entropy in urban and regional modelling in 1970, to Complex spatial systems, published in 2000) and over two hundred papers. (My work has been translated into Russian, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.) I was Editor of the monthly Environment and Planning, A from 1969 to 1991, and am now Honorary Editor. I have lectured widely on my research, both in the UK and throughout the world. My research interests have been concerned with many aspects of mathematical modelling and the use of models in planning in relation to all aspects of cities and regions - including demography, economic input-output modelling, transport and locational structures. I have been responsible for the introduction of a number of model building techniques which are now in common use internationally. The use of the concept of entropy in building spatial interaction models was a significant innovation – summarised in Entropy in urban and regional modelling. These models have been widely used in areas such as transport planning. I made important contributions through the rigorous deployment of accounts’ concepts in demography and economic modelling – the former fully documented in Spatial demographic analysis (jointly with Philip Rees). In recent years I have been particularly concerned with applications of dynamical systems theory in relation to the task of modelling the evolution of urban structure – initially described in Catastrophe theory and bifurcation: applications to urban and regional systems. This led to the laying of the foundations of a comprehensive theory of urban dynamics described in my most recent book, Complex spatial systems.

This research programme has been underpinned by an ambition to articulate a general model of cities and regions first described in Urban and regional models in geography and planning. I have also been interested, within this programme, in the ways in which different mathematical techniques can be optimally brought to bear on model-building tasks. This included identifying a key link between entropy-maximising models and mathematical programming; and, very recently, between entropy maximising and Fisher information (with Martin Berzins).


I participate in CASA’s weekly seminars and have given papers there. I run a fortnightly research workshop for graduate students in CASA as part of their research training – aiming to demonstrate what interdisciplinary thinking can achieve. I have given seminars around UCL – in Mathematics (twice), Geography and the Environment Institute. My main education contributions at present are through the Royal Society as noted above. I enjoy teaching and lecturing and it has been a major activity for me over the years.
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