Professor Jim Gallacher

Professor Jim Gallacher

On Saturday 31 October a great Scotsman died. Professor Jim Gallacher, for some four decades, was a driving force in the widening of access to higher education in Scotland, and in fostering the development of research in lifelong learning. He was a close personal friend and colleague of mine for over 30 years, and it is with great sadness that I write this account of his work.

I first met Jim in 1988, when he was exploring the creation of access provision in Scotland at the advent of the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). He had come to London to discuss the work that the late Maggie Woodrow was leading at the Open College of South London and somehow was directed towards me at a time when I was running Access Courses in the field of Food Science. It was an unlikely exchange between a sociologist and a chemist, but one that bore fruit for many years. A year later I was appointed to the University of Stirling, and whilst I knew how to develop access provision, my knowledge of the country and of the academic underpinning of the field was limited. A typically warm welcome from Jim and his colleagues, Norman Sharp and Bill Yule, at the then Glasgow College ensured that I had collaborators with common interests to mine and with an academic literacy very different from mine. For the next two decades, with Jim in particular, we established a set of joint initiatives between the now re-christened Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Stirling that have had a lasting impact.

Through the 1990s and into the noughties, this included the establishment of the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning funded by the Scottish Funding Council, the joint online Masters in Lifelong Learning and the delivery of a number of research projects for the Scottish government on Widening Participation and FE/HE links. Jim meantime was being increasingly influential at Scottish and UK level as a member of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) where he was chair of the Access and Inclusion Committee and as Vice-Chair of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL). He was also a member of the Scottish Executive’s Lifelong Learning Forum, and an adviser to the Scottish Parliament's Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee for their Inquiry into Lifelong Learning.

In what some would call retirement, he seemed no less active. As well as holding an Emeritus Chair at Glasgow Caledonian University, he held honorary chairs at the University of Stirling and the University of the Highlands and Islands and was a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Capital Normal University in Beijing. He continued to be prolific in publication, and only last year was co-editor of the Routledge collection, New Frontiers for College Education: International Perspectives, focusing on the vocational education sector, perhaps his greatest concern over the years.

His achievements were substantial and he touched many people, but it is his humanity and decency that will be remembered most. I have read many messages that have been flowing through many channels over the past few days, and I am sure that those who made the comments below express the feelings of many across the world.



… an unassuming man and genuinely committed to lifelong learning.


Jim was a very good man … this is very sad news … and a terrible shock


… a gentleman in the old fashioned sense of the word, always very pleasant and helpful to his colleagues, especially junior ones, and who was so fully committed to the principles of second chance education and lifelong learning. I owe him and his colleagues at GCU a lot.


…Jim was lovely, always committed and interested in the realities of people's lives, social justice and how education could play a role. He prompted thoughtfulness and guided many of our ideas around literacies and learning in FE.


…he was such a humane person who showed great commitment to a broad vision of adult education…


Jim was someone I respected and appreciated. He was a really humane and good person.


He was always so gentle, good humoured and generous with his help in what we were trying to do.


Jim was a gentle, intelligent and honest man, whom I liked a lot.


Such a decent human being. And a lot of fun.


… I have fond memories of him. He had a great sense of humour and was always up for a chat and a bit of debate


Some fabulous memories spring to mind. Red wine round his lips. Breaking the glass as he tried to get folks attention for after dinner speech after copious amounts of red wine. Sending me flying more than once on the dance floor at our conference Ceilidhs


I’m sure he will be well remembered by many.



It is so obvious that Jim was the best of men. I owe him a lot, and it is a sadness not to be able to share another lunch with him, something that we did too rarely in recent years. And I won’t have the pleasure of being offered a couple of squares of chocolate again. He always seems to have a part bar of chocolate on his person, showing impressive control in consumption that most of us could not manage. He will be sorely missed, not least of all by Pauline and his sons.

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Jim was a colleague of mine

Jim was a colleague of mine from 1977 when I joined the Department of Social Sciences at Glasgow College of Technology which later became Glasgow Caledonian University. We were both sociologists, both active in the Labour party and in the EIS where at one stage I was branch secretary and he was branch chairman. Jim was a deeply committed educationalist with a strong commitment to justice and equality that was rooted in his faith as well as his political convictions. He was an outstanding teacher with a great ability to communicate his ideas effectively. Jim was the inspiration behind the SWAP programme and at he worked very closely with GCT colleagues including Bill Longden, Norman Sharp, Bill Yule to pioneer access education in Scotland.

A passion and commitment for widening access

I know there will be so many people who have been influenced by Jim’s passion and commitment for widening access. He was always so generous with his time and had such fore-sight. I met him last Christmas at the Glasgow Regional College drinks party. He was reminiscing about the first SWAP programmes which he ran at the Pearce Institute at the time. It was such a great chat and I find it hard to believe I will not bump into him again. If you are in touch with his family if you can please pass on our thoughts on behalf of the SWAP partnership and community. It is such an incredible legacy in terms of a truly radical idea back in the day. On a personal note he was just so helpful and knowledgeable.


Tribute to Jim Gallacher

I was really shocked and disturbed to learn of Jim's passing. He was a colleague of mine based in another higher education institution when I worked as a professor of adult education at the University of Glasgow (2004-2008). 

My early contact with Jim was in relation to conferences held at the University of Stirling (where I was a visiting scholar from Auckland, New Zealand, in 2003) and Glasgow Caledonian University. I understand that Jim and Mike Osborne were primary movers in making these exciting conferences happen. These conferences were alive with innovation and excitement and prompted my keen interest in becoming an academic in Scotland. From time to time I also met Jim at his home University in central Glasgow.

Jim and I shared a mutual interest in the widening access for marginalised adults under the umbrella of SWAP (Scottish Widening Access programme). My own research on older adults’ engagement with institutions of FE/HE in the West of Scotland was triggered by attention to this research domain funded via SWAP. 

I very much enjoyed Jim’s good humour and positive encouragement of those around him. His enthusiasm for life and his work shone through. I am grateful for the opportunity of having worked alongside such a beacon for the best of humanity.

I share the sadness of colleagues more closely located geographically to Jim.

Brian Findsen

Hamilton, New Zealand

7 November 2020

One in a million

I’ve been colleague of Jim’s on and off over many years - in the UK and South Africa. I was part of a CRLL project + involved in LLL, Access and RPL work with him and Beth Crossan and Ruth Whittaker. 

Jim was one in a million - kind, open, clever, witty, creative, supportive. His presence in a room or meeting always made me feel upbeat and relaxed. He was fun: I remember with such fondness all the meals and drinks and conversations at meetings and conferences. He conjoined hard work and serious play seamlessly. 

I will miss him enormously.