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UK Expert Appointed; Otago Geography Professorship

8 October 2005

UK Expert Appointed To Otago Geography Professorship Gives New Impetus To Third-World Development Studies

Professor Tony Binns, an internationally-regarded expert on Third-World Development issues, has been appointed as the first holder of the University of Otago’s Ron Lister Chair in Geography.

The professorship, along with a lectureship and an annual visiting appointment, is part of a new multidisciplinary research cluster in Development Studies generously supported by a $900,000 gift from an anonymous donor and is part of the University’s $50 million Leading Thinkers Advancement Campaign.

Professor Binns, formerly a Reader in Geography at Sussex University in the UK, will take up the professorship this week.

“This is an exciting appointment for the University of Otago,” says Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg. “On behalf of the University, I would especially like to thank the donor for such generous support of the Ron Lister Chair in Geography. This level of commitment has enabled the University to attract someone of Professor Binns’ calibre to this prestigious position, and helps to support an entire research team.”
Described as a distinguished academic geographer with an international reputation in the study of development in Africa and Asia, Professor Binns has “a powerful publication record and experience at the very top of the profession in Britain,” says Professor Geoff Kearsley, Dean of the School of Social Sciences.

His appointment “continues the tradition of geography as a discipline that uniquely links the interplay of natural and social systems and reinforces the applied focus that was so strongly initiated by Ron Lister, whose memory this new position honours.”

As well as being a world-class researcher “whose work has changed the lives of countless people in the developing world”, Professor Binns is “an outstanding teacher with an infectious enthusiasm for Geography and all that the subject is able to do. His arrival will add a very powerful impetus towards the establishment of Development Studies as a major inter-disciplinary area of applied research within the University," Professor Kearsley says.

Professor Binns graduated from the University of Sheffield in 1970, and in 1971 was awarded a distinction in the Diploma in Education. He developed a strong interest in Third World development issues, and proceeded to postgraduate study at the Centre of West African Studies in the University of Birmingham, where he was awarded an MA in 1973 and a PhD in 1981.

Maintaining his strong research and teaching interests in Third World development and in geography at all levels in the education system, Professor Binns has travelled widely throughout Africa and Asia, and has taught at universities in Bangladesh, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Kenya, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone and South Africa. He has led numerous groups of sixth formers, university students and teachers on overseas field courses in Africa and China.

He has held various consultancies and research grants, and his field research has focused mainly on people-environment relationships in a development context, and on aspects of community-based development. In October 2000, he was awarded a 12-month ‘Study Abroad Fellowship’ by the Leverhulme Trust. Based at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, he researched on issues and processes concerning local institutions and post-Apartheid development. He currently has externally funded research projects in Sierra Leone and in South Africa.

A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Professor Binns is currently President of the Geographical Field Group and has been an active member of the Geographical Association (GA) for over 30 years. He was Honorary Secretary (Education) from 1985-1989, and played a key role in debate surrounding the establishment of the National Curriculum in the United Kingdom. In 1994-1995 he became the first elected President of the GA and he was subsequently elected Honorary Vice-President (1997-2002) and Chair of the International Committee (1999-2004).

At Sussex, where he was appointed in 1975, Professor Binns was Curriculum Tutor in Geography for 14 years (1982-1995) and worked on the Postgraduate Certificate in Education programme. In 1998, he was awarded a ‘University of Sussex Alumni Society Award for Excellence in Teaching’.

He has written materials for school children, teachers and academic audiences, including some 15 authored books and monographs, seven edited books and collections, 22 chapters in books and over 60 articles in refereed journals. He is Editor of the Routledge series ‘Perspectives on Development’, and has advised various publishers on schools and higher education texts, as well as acting as consultant for a number of television series on Africa, Southern Africa and China.

The Ron Lister Chair in Geography is part of the University’s ambitious Leading Thinkers Advancement Campaign. Otago has identified over 30 areas of proven research strength and aims to bolster these by appointing and supporting world-ranking academics and research teams. The New Zealand Government, under its “Partnerships for Excellence” programme, has committed $25 million to match dollar-for-dollar funds raised by the University towards its Campaign.


A welcoming function for Professor Binns will be held in the Council Chamber of the University Registry Building on Monday 11th October at 5.15 pm. Media planning to cover the event are asked to please contact Media Advisor Jill Rutherford (contact details below).

About the late Professor Ron Lister Former Professor Ron Lister served as the Head of the Geography Department for nearly 30 years and inspired many students with his passion for the integrative discipline which aims to establish knowledge of relationships between and among human and natural systems.

Professor Lister graduated in 1939 with first class honours from University College in London and accepted the position of Lecturer in Charge at Otago in 1952 after working for four years at Auckland University College.

Initially teaching all the courses himself, he threw himself at the task of developing the department, while his own specialty was the Regional Geography of Asia. This emphasis resulted from his war service from 1940-46 during which he served in South East Asia.

In 1965, Professor Lister was appointed to the Foundation Chair of Geography. He retired in 1981 and passed away in 1985.


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