press release
Published: 05 May 2023

The passing of Professor Patrick Dowling

A message from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Max Lu, about the passing of Professor Patrick Dowling:

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of the University’s third Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Professor Patrick Dowling CBE DL FREng FRS.   

Patrick was a truly great leader and an esteemed academic. He remained a loyal and supportive member of our University, continuing to visit us on campus with his wife, Dr Grace Dowling, long after he retired.  

On behalf of the University of Surrey community, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Grace and their family and friends.   

We will share detailed information on funeral arrangements when they are known, and the University will organise a memorial event to celebrate Professor Dowling’s lifelong contribution to education and research.   

We honour Patrick today by reflecting on some key highlights from his 11-year tenure as Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive from 1994 to 2005 – a significant period in our University’s history. 

Professor Patrick Dowling (1939 – 2023)  


Education and career  

Educated in Ireland and a graduate of University College Dublin, Patrick became Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at Imperial College London before joining the University of Surrey in October 1994.  

He possessed degrees in many subjects, but his speciality was structural engineering, particularly steel, land-based and offshore structures. While at Imperial College London, Patrick was heavily invested in the development of steel Eurocodes; he also led the European Committee on structural steel design, whose work is still used every day across the EU, and had significant hands-on research expertise in major construction projects including the North Sea oil platforms and Thames Barrier. 

A vision for Surrey  

Soon after his arrival at Surrey, Patrick began a process of consultation and discussion across the University community to create an ambitious Vision Statement for Surrey, commenting later: “We needed to work out where we are going as an institution, how we see ourselves, and how we present ourselves to the world outside. In other words, we needed to decide collectively what makes Surrey unique and special, what distinguishes us from other universities.”1  

The Vision was of a University working in partnership with industry and commerce to create an institution of real international standing.  

Investing in our campus   

Under Patrick’s leadership, the University progressed the largest building programme on campus since the University established its home on Guildford’s Stag Hill in the 1960s. Examples included enhanced academic facilities using the latest technology, and significant improvements to recreational and social student spaces. The award-winning Duke of Kent building, completed in 1999 at a cost of £12m, is one of many examples.  

Commenting on the University’s vision to build a campus on Manor Park, Patrick said: “…over the next 30 years or so, we will create a campus that – through the quality of its buildings and landscaping, and through the facilities it offers for research, teaching and leisure – will rival the best anywhere in the world.”2  

Furthering Surrey’s research  

In Patrick’s first year at the University, the Investing In Excellence scheme was established, attracting exceptional early-career lecturers and scientists. The Surrey Scholars Scheme followed.  

In 2002, Patrick reflected on Surrey’s research achievements, noting: “Our own research profile has been transformed over the past decade, as the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise demonstrated. Now 89 per cent of our research is rated as of either international or national significance.” 3  

Connecting communities   

Patrick led the University during a significant period (2000s) during which the University began establishing links with International academic institutions.  

He was passionate about the local community too and saw great value in forging important relationships within Guildford, including with local schools and colleges.   

Earning awards and distinctions  

Patrick received many national and international awards and distinctions. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey in 1999 and appointed a CBE in the New Year Honours List in 2001.  

He said at the time: “I am not used to getting letters from 10 Downing Street. It was for helping with relations between universities and industry. In reality, this is what the University of Surrey is all about.” 4  

Professor Max Lu 

President and Vice-Chancellor 


The funeral will take place at St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Wednesday, 31 May 2023, at 12 pm. More details can be found here, and a live stream of the service will be available on YouTube.




1, 2, 3, 4 – taken from ‘The University of Surrey: A History of Shaping the Future’ by Jacqueline Mitchell and Christopher Pick. 

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