Gerry  McKenna, President, Ulster University

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Ulster University

Cromore Road

Derry, County Londonderry BT52 1SA

United Kingdom

Company Description

Ulster offers a range of expertise to support business enterprise and innovation, from events, research and development projects to consultancy and accessing technologies for licencing. Our expertise and facilities span across: 4 campuses 6 faculties 14 ... more

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Background Information

Employment History

Chartered Biologist

Society of Biology

Coleraine Business Person of the Year

Coleraine Borough Council

DSc Honoris Causa

NUI Galway

LLD Honoris Causa

Queen's University Belfast

Chair of the Management Board

Independent Advisory Groups


The European College of Gerodontology

Senior House Officer

NHS Tayside

Founding Chair

Universities Ireland


International Advisory Board
The Marble Project

Quality Assurance Agency

Royal Irish Academy's Life

Member, International Advisory Board
University of Kufa

Member, Executive Committee
Heads of Biology

North-South Committee and Council-nominated Members Committee

Institute of Biomedical Science

Royal Society of Biology

RSA Corp

Member, Editorial Board

Royal Irish Academy Council Nominations Committee

Deputy Lieutenant for County Londonderry
Buckingham Palace

Honorary Doctor
Fordham University

Board Member
e-Universities UK

Member, Editorial Board
British Journal of Biomedical Science and Radiography

Northern Ireland Science Park


Sports Institute Northern Ireland

Lecturer In Prosthodontics and Oral Rehabilitation
University College Cork

Board Member
Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine

Other Studies


Council of the Institute of Biomedical Science

Founding Board Member
University Challenge Ltd.


Gerry McKenna has been a pioneering and visionary figure in higher education. He was the key architect in transforming the University of Ulster into a university with a strong reputation for research and knowledge transfer. He internationalised the University through collaborative research and teaching linkages with leading universities in the United States, Hong Kong, China, India, Malaysia and Australia. He led Ulster to become: the leading UK centre for e-learning and for widening access, including the ‘Step Up Programme; the most extensive provider of healthcare programmes in the UK; the 8th most popular UK university for undergraduate applications and the largest on the island of Ireland. It was shortlisted for the Sunday Times 'University of the Year' in 2001. Gerry McKenna was the progenitor and driver of Ulster's highly successful research and knowledge transfer strategy which saw the University become one of only twenty universities to obtain two 5* ratings (in Biomedical Sciences and Celtic Studies) in the 2001 UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise. McKenna has been centrally involved in developing many national and international initiatives including the establishment of Universities Ireland (as founding chair), the Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Sciences (HUCBMS) and the US-Ireland R&D Partnership. He was a co-founder of the Northern Ireland Science Park. He established incubator facilities across the University and science research parks at the Coleraine and Magee campuses. An internationally distinguished researcher, McKenna built his subject area, biomedical sciences, from a zero base into a leading international centre; obtaining the highest possible 5* ratings in successive Research Assessment Exercises (RAEs) in 1996 and 2001. He currently advises institutions on research strategy, healthcare education, business planning and biotechnology. He writes on research policy, knowledge transfer, university funding and institutional ethics. Web Page:

Web References (166 Total References)

Professor P. G. (Gerry) McKenna [cached]

Gerry McKenna was the progenitor and driver of Ulster's highly successful research and knowledge transfer strategy which saw the University develop from a low research base to become one of only twenty universities to obtain two 5* ratings (in Biomedical Sciences and Celtic Studies) in the 2001 UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise. At this time, Ulster was ranked 27th in the UK for 'research power'. An internationally distinguished researcher in the areas of DNA repair and mutagenesis, McKenna built his subject area, biomedical sciences, from a zero base at Ulster in the early 1980s into a leading international centre by the mid-1990s.

McKenna has been a hugely innovative force in teaching and learning. Among many teaching initiatives, he established the University of Ulster as a leading UK centre for e-learning through 'Campus One' and for widening access, particularly through the 'Step Up Programme' focussed on disadvantaged areas. Under his stewardship, Ulster became the most extensive provider of undergraduate and postgraduate healthcare programmes in the UK, many initiated directly by him, and rose to being the 8th most popular university for undergraduate applications in the UK and the largest university on the island of Ireland. It was shortlisted for the Sunday Times 'University of the Year' in 2001.
McKenna has been centrally involved in developing many national and international initiatives including the establishment of Universities Ireland (as founding chair), and being co-founder of the Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Sciences (HUCBMS), the US-Ireland R&D Partnership and the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA). Locally, he was a pioneer of knowledge transfer, influenced by his many collaborations and associations with the United States. He was also co-founder of the Northern Ireland Science Park and developed incubator facilities for start-up companies across each of the University of Ulster's campuses. He chaired the Northern Ireland Foresight: Life and Health Technologies Report. He founded research graduate schools in each of the University of Ulster's faculties and established the innovative Master of Research programme and a number of professional doctoral programmes within the University.
A Professor Emeritus of the University of Ulster, Gerry McKenna remains highly active in higher education circles; advising institutions and organizations, nationally and internationally, on research strategy and policy, biomedical and healthcare education, business planning and biotechnology. He is President Emeritus and current Hon. Executive Secretary of the Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Sciences.
Professor McKenna is currently a member of the Royal Irish Academy's Life and Medical Sciences Committee, North-South Committee, and Council-nominated Members Committee. He is also a member of the Quality Assurance Agency's Benchmarking Working Groups for Biosciences and Biomedical Sciences, and the Society of Biology's Education Advisory Committee. He is a member of the University of Kufa's International Advisory Board and is Biomedical Sciences Advisor for Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He is chair of the Management Board of the Servite Library and Museum Project and the Independent Advisory Group for the University Alliance Doctoral Training Alliance.
Gerry McKenna has received many plaudits including: Membership of the Royal Irish Academy, Freedom of the Borough of Coleraine, Honorary Doctorates from the National University of Ireland and Queen's University Belfast, Coleraine Business Person of the Year, Keys to the City of Portland Maine, and Honouree of the Harvard Friends of Celtic Studies and the Flax Trust, New York. He is Deputy Lieutenant for Co. Londonderry.

Professor P. G. (Gerry) McKenna [cached]

Professor Gerry McKenna is an internationally recognised and highly respected biomedical scientist. A former Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Ulster (UU),he was a key progenitor and implementer of the University's transition from a local, relatively parochial, university into one with a strong national and international reputation. He achieved this through his vision that whilst the University must serve and drive the economic, social and cultural needs of the local population and region, it could only achieve its goals through also participating in, and where possible exceeding, the attainments of internationally outstanding universities elsewhere. This was best exemplified through his development of his own subject, biomedical sciences, from a zero base at UU to becoming the leading UK centre for teaching and research in this area; his exceptional record in taught programme innovation; and his development of a selective research strategy for the University which culminated in Ulster being one of only 20 UK universities having two of the highest rated, 5*, departments in the 2001 periodic UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and its follow-through to having 3 departments ranked in the top 3 in the UK in the subsequent 2008 RAE - a feat matched also by only 20 other universities. In parallel with this, he was a central figure in developing a vision of knowledge transfer in Northern Ireland which culminated in the development of the Northern Ireland Science Park to facilitate the development of spin-out companies from Ulster and Queen's University Belfast (QUB).

Gerry McKenna was born on 10 December 1953 into a farming family in the townland of Lisbanlemneigh situated between Benburb and The Moy, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He was the youngest of five children.
Gerry McKenna married Phil McArdle in 1976.
They have two sons, Gerald and James.
McKenna was mentored by the founding professor of biology at NUU, the distinguished ecologist Amyan Macfadyen, and quickly established himself as an innovator in both course design and research. Remarkably for one so young and inexperienced, he designed the programme, wrote the course document, conducted the various negotiations with government, the professional body (the Institute of Medical Laboratory Sciences, later the Institute of Biomedical Science), the state registration body (Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine), the Northern Ireland Health department, and the local profession, leading to the introduction of the honours degree programme in Medical Laboratory Sciences (later retitled Biomedical Sciences) at NUU in 1980.
University of Ulster
McKenna, like many others at NUU, was shocked at the outcome of the Northern Ireland government-sponsored report by Sir Henry Chilver into higher education in Northern Ireland in 1982.
McKenna thus began his inexorable drive to ensure that the new institution and, in particular those parts with which he was associated, would ascend to a recognised level of academic respectability. The University of Ulster came into being formally in October 1984.
Vision and Strategy
McKenna was clear in his vision that a university worthy of the title must contribute to knowledge as well as imparting it. Fiercely committed to his country and region, he believed that the future for Northern Ireland lay in high technology developments based on a strong university sector innovative in taught programmes and research; a belief reinforced strongly through many visits to the United States, particularly to North Carolina and Georgia, where he also observed the commitment of some leading universities to knowledge transfer, including support for science parks, university spin-out companies and licensing deals based on university-led scientific discoveries. He felt strongly that Northern Ireland must embrace these concepts if it was to progress from civil strife to becoming the vibrant knowledge-based economy which he felt was both possible and attainable. In holding these views, he was a relatively lone but increasingly prominent voice within UU.
The Path Travelled
McKenna's apparently smooth progress within UU belies the many hurdles he overcame in his upward transition. His innovative achievements were exceptional in the face of much internal opposition from those opposed to change and its associated challenges. He established in 1985 the first Masters programme in medical laboratory sciences/biomedical sciences in the UK. He revised this in 1997 to replace the professional Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) 2-part Fellowship programme with the concurrent result that Northern Ireland became the first region in the UK to have all-graduate entry to the biomedical science profession. He also initiated the development of nutrition and dietetics training in Northern Ireland, establishing, in 1987, the BSc (Hons) programme in human nutrition. In 1989, he led the transfer of radiography education from the, then, local schools of radiography into the University, thus establishing the first approved radiography degree programme in the UK. He did not rest on his laurels; in the early 1990s, he established optometry and clinical sciences degree programmes and, towards the end of the decade, the highly innovative and interdisciplinary Master of Research (MRes) programme. He also established a number of professional doctorate programmes. In all of these endeavours he was supported by a number of like-minded colleagues who shared his ambitious view of what was possible and attainable.
The Research Agenda
Parallel with his achievements in taught programme development, McKenna was firmly convinced that the University of Ulster must establish a strong research base. A highly talented and internationally recognised researcher with over 200 scientific publications and 25 PhD supervisions (7 of whom progressed to full professorships in universities in the UK, US, Canada, Iraq and Hong Kong), he established a major reputation for research in the areas of DNA repair and mutagenesis. Most significantly, he built determinedly, in a relatively short period, a research empire in biomedical sciences covering a number of areas including human nutrition (leading inter alia to the formation of the highly successful Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance; IUNA), cancer biology and ageing, molecular and cellular biology, diabetes, vision science and bioinformatics, which has endured. He founded, in 1985, the Biomedical Sciences Research Centre and was its first Director. At that time the fledgling University of Ulster was having to come to terms with the reality of being a university within a national academic environment that associated university status with having a respectable research base. McKenna relished this challenge, working assiduously with successive Pro Vice Chancellors with responsibility for research to develop a research strategy for the University. He was a committed adherent to Wilhelm von Humboldt's early 19th century vision of a university based on the unity of research and teaching, upholding the ideal of research without restrictions and providing a comprehensive education for its students. Ironically, for one who had an unparalleled record in developing taught programmes, his name became synonymous with research developments.
McKenna, while also holding the position of Dean of the highly successful Faculty of Science, was indefatigable in promoting the research agenda, including developing a highly selective research strategy, recognising that areas and individuals with genuine research talent must be nurtured and supported meaningfully and sensitively. This involved the appointment of research coordinators for each selectively supported research subject area, with whom he worked closely to implement, at subject level, his vision and strategy for research in the University. In effect McKenna, with Gibson's support, removed responsibility for the management of research and research funding from Deans and Heads of Departments/Schools; allocating the funds directly through the Units of Assessment. This was a radical departure from previous practice. The fact that it was accepted with only limited resistance reflected both McKenna's strength of personality and argument and a lack of interest in or knowledge of research among most university managers at that time.
In the effort to develop a research culture, McKenna was resolute in insisting that the University should only appoint and promote individuals on the basis of talent and performance.
McKenna believed strongly that research students were the life blood of research, particularly in the sciences and engineering and that they should be afforded increased status and support in the University. Accordingly he put in place rigorous monitoring processes for research student progress and established training programmes inter alia: in project planning, relevant research techniques, public presentation of data and results, and university teaching. His efforts produced dramatic results; increasing externally

2001. Professor Gerry ... [cached]

2001. Professor Gerry McKenna, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Ulster, pictured with the President of Ireland, Dr Mary McAleese, prior to conferring the Hon Degree of Doctor of Letters upon the President at a Royal Irish Academy symposium held at the University.

2001. Professor Gerry McKenna, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Ulster, pictured with the President of Ireland, Dr Mary McAleese, prior to conferring the Hon Degree of Doctor of Letters upon the President at a Royal Irish Academy symposium held at the University.

About HUCBMS » Past presidents - Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Sciences [cached]

Prof Gerry McKenna, University of Ulster. 1995-1997.

Honourees | The Flax Trust [cached]

Dr Gerry McKenna, President, University of Ulster, with Fr Myles Kavanagh CP, Chairman Flax Trust

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