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James Purnell joins UAL as President & Vice-Chancellor

Written by
Communications Team
Published date
23 October 2020
Portrait of James Purnell
James Purnell. Image courtesy of BBC

James Purnell has been appointed President & Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London, succeeding Sir Nigel Carrington in the role after seven years at the BBC, most recently as Director, Radio & Education.

James Purnell said:

I couldn’t be happier to join the brilliant team at UAL and I look forward to working with students and staff alike across all colleges. Under Sir Nigel Carrington, UAL has established itself as a global influence in creativity and a leader in national education strategy. UAL is already one of the world’s great creative institutions, so I will start by listening to what students, staff, governors and stakeholders seek from the next phase in our growth. I am especially alert to student wellbeing as COVID reshapes their teaching and personal experience. And UAL will play an important part in the re-establishment of the creative economy and London’s re-awakening following the pandemic.

David Isaac CBE, Chair of UAL’s Court of Governors, welcomed the appointment, saying:

James has a compelling vision for UAL’s future in education and culture, building on our success in the global academic rankings. His track record as a strategist and advocate will be vital as we diversify our student and staff body and create a heavyweight new digital capability.

James Purnell has extensive experience in the creative economy. At the BBC, in his most recent role he has led the teams across BBC Radio & Music, BBC Children’s & Education as well as BBC Arts. He’s overseen the development of the corporation’s education strategy, delivering digital products, notably Bitesize, alongside campaigns on online safety and cutting the literacy gap between rich and poor children. He’s launched BBC Sounds, which brings together the BBC’s radio stations, podcasts and music mixes in one place with more than 3.4 million weekly users, and championed the BBC’s ambitious Arts strategy.

In 2012, James won Best Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival as producer of the documentary One Mile Away, which brought two gangs in Birmingham to a truce after decades of conflict. In 2009, as Secretary of State for Culture, James commissioned the McMaster Review, which reset the debate around access and excellence in culture.

The recruitment for the President & Vice-Chancellor included an extensive international search with students and staff involved in the selection process. James joins UAL on 1 March 2021 as President Elect for a month-long transition period with Sir Nigel, who remains in office until 31 March 2021.