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World-Renowned Cancer Researcher To Lead Otago

World-Renowned Cancer Researcher To Lead Otago

Professor David Skegg to set new strategic course for New Zealand’s first university

Internationally-renowned cancer researcher Professor David Skegg has been chosen as the University of Otago’s new Vice Chancellor.

Professor Skegg will replace Vice Chancellor Dr Graeme Fogelberg who retires next year. He was selected from a “highly competitive and very impressive” list of top national and international candidates for the position, says University Chancellor Eion Edgar.

“Professor Skegg was an outstanding candidate, and was the unanimous choice of the selection committee. I am absolutely delighted that he has accepted the offer to lead the University of Otago,” Mr Edgar said. “He has all the qualities we were seeking in a leader: impeccable international academic reputation, sound strategic thinking, strong administrative capabilities, and excellent communication and people skills. In summary, he is an outstanding New Zealander.”

"His experience leading both the academic and operational functions of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine – the University’s largest department and one of the most successful in terms of research output – makes him an ideal candidate to lead the University of Otago, with its strong biomedical focus and its international reputation for excellence in research and teaching,” Mr Edgar says. “I have every confidence that under his direction, this University will secure its position as the finest research-led institution in the country, and will make a vital contribution to the future prosperity of the nation."

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“I am tremendously honoured by the prospect of leading the University of Otago as its Vice Chancellor,” Professor Skegg says. “I have happily committed most of my academic career to this superb institution, with its long and distinguished history, and its equally strong future. I am keen to meet with as many staff and students as I can over the coming months to introduce myself to those who do not yet know me, and, more importantly, to listen and to learn. This is a wonderful opportunity for me, and I wish to thank the Selection Committee for having recommended me as Vice Chancellor, and the University Council for having endorsed that choice.”

Born in 1947 in Auckland, Professor Skegg demonstrated his academic acumen from an early age winning first place in New Zealand for biology and earning a University Junior Scholarship while at the distinguished boys’ school, King’s College. While at Otago, he gained a BMedSc, MB, and ChB with distinction, and was awarded both the Travelling Scholarship in Medicine and a Rhodes Scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. After graduating with a DPhil, he continued at Oxford as a Lecturer in Epidemiology from 1976 to 1979, and, in 1980, he returned to Otago to take up the Chair of Preventive and Social Medicine.

Under his leadership, the department grew from less than a dozen staff to the largest in the University, with nearly 130 staff – the majority of whom are employed with external funding from research grants or commercial contracts.

But Professor Skegg is probably best known outside the university as a leading expert on breast and cervical cancer, contraceptive and drug safety, and on reproductive health. Last year, he was a co-investigator in a major study which debunked claims that vasectomy is linked to prostate cancer, research which received world-wide attention.

He currently chairs an international breast cancer research group centred at Oxford, and for over 15 years has advised the World Health Organisation’s Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction.

In 1992, his expertise was recognised when the New Zealand Government appointed him as the Chair of the newly-created Public Health Commission which aimed at improving and protecting the health of New Zealanders. When the Commission was eventually merged with the Ministry of Health, its contribution was applauded by all major political parties, and was described by the New Zealand Medical Association as “by far the most successful of all the new agencies created by the Health Reforms.”

During the same period, Professor Skegg chaired the Health Research Council of New Zealand. He has also served on several Government committees including a BSE Expert Science Panel which brought him into contact with scientists from across several Crown research institutes, as well as officials from different ministries.

His outstanding record both as a researcher – with over 140 publications in academic journals – and as a strong advocate of improved public health, has earned him several of this nation’s most prestigious honours. They include: the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal, an OBE (1990) for services to medicine, a Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand (1992), and the Sir Charles Hercus Medal (Royal Society of New Zealand, 1999). And in August of this year, Professor Skegg also received the University of Otago’s top honour, the Distinguished Research Medal.

“All over the world, the roles of universities are changing rapidly. In New Zealand, as in other countries, we can expect an increasing differentiation between a small number of research-led universities and other institutes of tertiary education,” Professor Skegg says. “It is my aim to ensure that the University of Otago emerges as one of the institutions of truly international stature.

“Certainly this University has a proud tradition, and is well-known for the quality of its teaching and its unique campus life, which partly stems from its special relationship with the City of Dunedin. The University is also in a sound financial position.

“But there are no grounds for complacency – we need a clear strategic vision that will enhance the University’s national contribution, and increase its international standing. This is the challenge before me, and one I accept gladly.”

Professor Skegg will take up the position of Vice Chancellor on 1st August 2004.

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