Professor Determined to Make a Change at Aston; A Respected Engineer and Academic, Former Rolls Royce Board Member and Now a Government Adviser, You Could Say Aston University's New Boss Is a High Achiever. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi Meets Professor Julia King, the Vice-Chancellor Who Believes Scientists and Engineers Are Key to the Health of the Economy

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Byline: Shahid Naqvi

She's a female university boss in a field still dominated by men. Not only that, she's an engineer by trade, a profession in which women are also conspicuous by their absence.

Professor Julia King is, however, one of the most respected scientists in the country, awarded a CBE for services to materials engineering in 1999.

The Cambridge-educated academic's last job was as principal of Imperial College London's engineering faculty; she's a past chief executive of the Institute of Physics and former Rolls Royce executive.

She even got a mention in Gordon Brown's Budget speech after having been selected by the Government to jointly head a review into reducing carbon emissions.

Over the coming years, she's likely to make a signif-icant impact on Aston University, Birmingham and the wider region - not least in raising the profile of science and engineering.

Given her background, it's hardly surprising one of the things the newly-appointed vice-chancellor feels most strongly about is the need for university research to make a bigger contribution to industry.

"I have worked in business and universities and that is still quite unusual," she said.

"It is not surprising because the culture of the two areas can be quite different. The traditions of academia in how research is done has been much more exploratory - you follow the most interesting bit rather than focusing on delivering an outcome by a particular date.

"In industry we have to learn some parts need to be delivered by specific dates. I think we need to look at how we can better manage that."

Prof King believes it is increasingly the role of universities to bridge this divide if Britain is to thrive as a "knowledge-led" economy. …