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Arthur William WILSON

Doctor of Laws
honoris causa

Many of us in this Congregation may no doubt feel that there is some unbridgeable gap between the hard world of finance and the academic world. Though we are inevitably cost-conscious and aware of the financial implications of what we do, the absence of a profit motive leads us to discount many of those factors which would influence the commercial mind. And rightly so. Nevertheless, we must have a sound financial basis for our work and we must be secure in the knowledge that we are free from arbitrary interruption through shortage of cash. Furthermore, we just as any other organization must ultimately be subject to the overlordship of the ledger and, though we would abjure any outside control over our academic activities, we admit that we must be generally accountable to controllers of our purse strings. This being so, it seems axiomatic that a University’s book keeper, its financial expert must be man who is in sympathy with the academic community he serves. This University can rest content on this score with the service of Arthur William Wilson as its Bursar since 1952.

Mr Wilson is a modest man who is always at pains to understate the role which he has played, not only in modernizing this University’s financial structure during his period of office, but also in advising on the establishment of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Yet the astounding thing is that his knowledge of University financial operations has derived from his own practice for when he arrived he had no guidelines, no-one to whom he could turn for substantial advice except himself.

Born a Yorkshireman, that country had little opportunity to take advantage of his services after his qualification as an accountant in 1938. The War carried him away from his native country and he found himself for a time in Ireland and, being so attracted by the country, returned there after the war to work in local government. It was here that he first experienced the peculiarities of educational finance, and perhaps also of the peculiarities of educationists, in his work as County Education Accountant.

The task with which Mr Wilson was faced when he first walked into his new office in 1952 must have been more than daunting. The University’s finances, never since its foundation on the strongest basis, had suffered grievously from the War and the climb back to financial viability had been long and slow. At times, the future of the University has seemed in doubt and, even though funds had flowed in, there was a need to demonstrate that the University’s house could be kept in order and that its organisation was up to the demands which would be put on it. As he is the first to admit, Mr Wilson’s knowledge of a University’s working was a little scanty at that time and he had to sit down and approach the problem as an accountant, starting from first principles. What eventually came out of his examination of the University’s finances was a system of financial control which has stood the test of time and, need we say, has allowed the university to concentrate on its academic objectives.

Mr Wilson has come over the years to appreciate the very special nature of the community in which he has spent so much of his working life and he values the relationship which has arisen between him and the members of the academic staff. The University, too, has come to appreciate Mr Wilson’s unique qualities as an accountant and as a servant of the ideals which the University represents. His work has been well done and he may be secure in the knowledge that he has shared in the development of a worthy institution.

Mr Chancellor, it is not often that this University honours members of its administrative staff but we may be unanimous in our approbation of our Bursar. I, therefore, respectfully request you to confer on him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Dafydd Meurig Emrys Evans, LLB, BCL, the Public Orator of the University.

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