Michael Anthony Higgins, university administrator: born Leicester 24 June 1944; Administrative Assistant, then Assistant Registrar, Leicester University 1967-78; Senior Assistant Registrar, Loughborough University of Technology 1979-84; Chief Executive, Polytechnics Central Admissions System 1984-93; Chief Executive, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service 1993-2003; married 1969 Hilary Noble (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1978), 1978 Janet Sadow (née Foreman; marriage dissolved 1998); died Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 16 April 2004.
Tony Higgins was an original and distinctive voice in higher education and the former Chief Executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) based in Cheltenham.
His entire working life was spent in the field of higher education. It began in his home-town university of Leicester, where he was an Administrative Assistant and then Assistant Registrar from 1967 to 1978, and continued at Loughborough University, where he was a Senior Assistant Registrar until 1984 - in which year he was appointed to set up and become the Chief Executive of the Polytechnics Central Admissions System (Pcas), a position he held until 1993.
From the beginning, the new service was able to build upon the infrastructure developed by the Universities Central Council on Admissions (Ucca) and, following the Government's decision in 1992 to allow the polytechnics to become universities, Pcas merged with Ucca in 1993 to form Ucas. After a short period of joint leadership with Philip Oakley of Ucca, Higgins became sole Chief Executive of Ucas and held the post until his retirement due to ill-health in July 2003.
Higgins was interested in all aspects of access to higher education, not just the applications and admissions process. His many additional commitments included the Higher Education Information Services Trust (1991-93), the Council of Europe Development Project on Access to Higher Education (1993-96) and the Higher Education Funding Council Committee on Performance Indicators (1989-94).
The importance of widening participation to higher education was at the forefront of his thinking and was instrumental in his support for the development of the Ucas Tariff, which facilitates the consideration of different types of qualifications by universities and colleges admissions staff when assessing applications from students and arguably has played an important part in beginning to establish that elusive "parity of esteem" between academic and vocational qualifications. Similarly, he favoured strongly the concept of a post-qualification applications system with its potential for a faster, more responsive and fairer admissions process, and was personally involved in the many investigations of this issue in recent years.
Although not known for spending much time on a personal computer and frequently threatening to abolish the use of the dreaded e-mail within Ucas, Higgins was a protagonist of online applications and his vision has been exemplified in the huge popularity of the Ucas website and the greatly increasing numbers of electronic applications.
A man of considerable energy, Higgins also immersed himself in the cultural, business and sporting life of Cheltenham. He was Chairman of the Development Committee of Cheltenham International Festivals of Music, Literature and Jazz (1988-2000) and of the Cheltenham Business Partnership (2002).
A keen sportsman, he had played rugby for Leicester Tigers Reserve XV in his youth. He loved football and golf. Business could not begin at the Monday-morning meeting of his team in the Chief Executive's office until exhaustive analysis of the weekend's performance of the Tigers and Leicester City FC was completed. He was an active supporter of Cheltenham Rugby Club and Cheltenham Town Football Club; a minute's silence in Tony Higgins's memory preceded the recent Cheltenham home game against Torquay.
Higgins had been educated at Wyggeston Boys School, Leicester, and Newcastle University, where he studied Modern Languages. He was renowned for never letting a media opportunity go by and could be relied upon to be controversial, but the occasions on which he ruffled the sector were outnumbered by the times that he unerringly identified the applicants' perspective.
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