Welcome the new Vice-Chancellor
By Val McFarlane
Duncan Maskell, who will become the University of Melbourne’s 20th Vice-Chancellor in October, was the first in his family to attend university. He was accepted to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge in 1979 and, speaking at an alumni reception in London earlier this year, he described how leaving his relatively humble circumstances to go to one of the world’s top universities had been something of a culture shock.
But it wasn’t long before that shock subsided and he started to build an impressive career, much of it spent at his alma mater before accepting the challenge of guiding Australia’s number one university.
Professor Maskell’s arrival will mark the end of Professor Glyn Davis’s hugely successful 14-year term as Vice-Chancellor, during which he helped guide Melbourne into the top echelon of research universities across the world. He also introduced the Melbourne Model, a degree structure more in keeping with international standard, in which students start with a generalist three-year bachelor’s degree followed by a specialised master’s qualification.
Professor Maskell said he had been approached a number of times in recent years to shift jobs, but Melbourne had “really caught my imagination”.
“Melbourne is an excellent university,” he said. “Glyn has done an amazingly good job, getting it to where it is, and I think that there is plenty of potential to build on his strong foundation to kick on and improve even further.
“Add to that the fact that Melbourne is a really great city and it all adds up to a very exciting opportunity for me.”
After spells at Wellcome Biotech, the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford, and Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, Professor Maskell returned to Cambridge in 1996 as the first Marks & Spencer Professor of Farm Animal Health, Food Science and Food Safety.
He became Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge in 2004 and Head of the School of the Biological Sciences in 2013. Since 2015, he has been the university’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources) with overall responsibility for an annual turnover of approximately £2bn and the University’s major building program.
He has published more than 250 research papers, leading to his election as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
In addition, Professor Maskell has been cofounder of four biotech companies, a member of the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Fund investment committee, and a board member of FTSE250 company Genus plc and Cambridge Innovation Capital.
He gave some insight into his life outside of work when he noted: “I like art. I like reading. I love music and I play clarinet and saxophone, though no longer to any decent standard.
“I also love sport, particularly rugby union, football and cricket, and I always enjoyed watching Aussie Rules on the TV in the UK when I was a kid. I now watch it on a Saturday morning on cable TV. I can’t wait to attend my first footy match in Melbourne, and of course the Boxing Day Test at the MCG; my first-ever visit to Australia was specifically to attend the Ashes Test at the MCG in 1994 which surprisingly England lost dismally by 295 runs!”