Roy Niblett, Emeritus Professor of Education of London University, was an active contributor throughout his life to the causes which he held dear. Looking back in his mid-nineties, he inclined to the view that, professionally speaking, the first half had been more rewarding than the second. The judgment implied no lessening of his searching interest in contemporary circumstances, but rather his clear-sighted assessment that much of what he had contended for had come increasingly under pressure as the 20th century proceeded.
He was born in Keynsham, near Bristol, into a modest family background. In 1914, his parents moved into the city in the hope, duly fulfilled, that when the time came Roy would pass the scholarship examination for entry to the Merchant Venturers' School. He showed his mettle at an early age, when he persuaded the school to introduce an arts sixth form. With his father taking the view that Oxford University was beyond the reach of a family such as theirs, Roy Niblett read English at Bristol University, financially supported by a grant awarded on the understanding that he would acquire a postgraduate teaching qualification and serve as a teacher; this he did, but not before making it to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, for two years of research for the award of a BLitt degree.
Niblett viewed himself first and foremost as a teacher, whether in person or in his writing. He had benefited from teachers who took care to encourage their pupils, students and colleagues, and believed that 'to show confidence in others, matters in untold measure'. His teaching style was supportive, searching, meticulous in detail, above all engaged in ensuring the best possible outcome to the task in hand.
In 1934 he moved into higher education, as a lecturer in Education at King's College, Newcastle, and within a short time his potential abilities as a policy maker and administrator had gained recognition. In the constraining circumstances of the Second World War, he found himself serving for four years as Registrar of the University of Durham. He was appointed to his first professorship in 1945 by Hull University, and his move in 1948 to Leeds, as Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Education, gave him the opportunity to influence teacher education at an important stage.
The implementation of the 1944 McNair Report had established university oversight of the teacher training colleges to meet the challenges of the post-war world, and at Leeds Niblett was in the forefront of developments in both initial and in-service teacher education. It was the happiest time of his professional life. For 10 years, he was a member of the University Grants Committee, and he never ceased to regret losing the battle in that forum, by one vote, on the continuation of ear-marked funding for Institutes of Education.
Roy Niblett's appointment as Dean of the University of London Institute of Education in 1960 increased his national and international profile. He enjoyed visiting professorships in the United States, Australia and Japan, and he served as a Vice- President of the World University Service. In 1968 when he was appointed to a chair in higher education at the Institute, the first such professorial designation in the United Kingdom, it was a fitting recognition of his role on the wider university stage.
His professorial appointment also fitted well with Niblett's insistence that universities and colleges should not cease to address the question 'What is higher education for? …