Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Honoris causa

  • Presentation
  • Investiture Ceremony
  • Professional Background
  • Previous Honoris Causa

Professional Background

Professor Brenda Gourley was Vice Chancellor and CEO of The Open University in the United Kingdom from 2002 to 2009. Before that she occupied the same position at one of South Africa's largest universities, the University of Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal). She had been at the same university occupying successive posts as Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management and Deputy Vice Chancellor, thus combining an academic career with a career in academic management ranging over thirty years through momentous changes in her own country plus momentous times in Higher Education.

Professor Gourley's interests include Higher Education strategy and trends (including the impact of technology), the world of open and distance education, leadership, ethics and the role of universities in their communities (which includes the importance of volunteering roles for university students). She is a founder member of the Talloires Network of universities involved in civic engagement and remains on its Steering Committee.

She continues to champion the Open Educational Resource movement (she is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Open Education Foundation) and ensured that The Open University was the first British university to make a large selection of its educational resources freely available on the web. It remains an exemplar. She is also a great supporter of the role of Higher Education in promoting social justice and finding a sustainable way of out of poverty.

She holds and has held (in the past) a range of positions on Boards and Trusts, serving two terms of office as Chair of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and two terms of office on the Board of the International Association of Universities as well as many others in various parts of the world – both in the public and private sectors.

She has numerous publications in books, journals and periodicals and is a frequent speaker at conferences and gatherings all over the world.


Recognition and recent acknowledgement of her work


Honorary degrees awarded by the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom (1997), by the University of Richmond, United Kingdom (2004), by the University of Abertay, United Kingdom (2004), by the University of Quebec (2007), by the University of Pretoria (2008), and by The Open University of The Netherlands (2009) – all in recognition of her contribution to Higher Education.


Honorary degree awarded by Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan (2007) in recognition of her eminence in the field of Distance Education and distinguished service to humanity; and Honorary Fellowship of the Open University of Israel (2008) in recognition of her commitment to broadening access of the community to Higher Education.


Honorary Fellowship of the Commonwealth of Learning (2008).


Symons Medal awarded by the Association of Commonwealth Universities for contribution to Higher Education in the Commonwealth (2008).


Fellowship of the City and Guilds Institute of London for services to Higher Education (2009).


Award of Individual Prize of Excellence by the International Council for Open and Distance Learning (2008).


International Public Servant of the Year Award made by Women in Public Life Initiative and Overall Outstanding Achiever of the Year Award made by same body (2009) in the United Kingdom.


Professor Gourley, a chartered accountant by profession and married to architect, James, has four children and six grandchildren. She spends her time between Brighton in the UK and South Africa – both places where she has work and personal interests. She remains a Fellow of Tisch College at Tufts University in Boston.


[February 2011]



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