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Emerita Professor Shirley Atkinson is the former Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland and led the University through a period of sustained growth with the expansion of operations in Sunderland, London and overseas, including a new School of Nursing and a new Medical school.

Throughout her career she has held senior executive roles both within and outside of the Education sector. She has a wealth of experience in non-executive roles both at national and regional level. Her national roles have included; Board membership of the University and Colleges Employers Association, the Social Mobility Advisory Group, and the Cultural Cities Inquiry Board.  She is currently Chair of the Members at the Beacon School in Sunderland and a Board member of the NCG group of seven colleges of further and higher education.

Shirley was awarded an OBE in the Queens 2019 Honours list for Education with a focus on widening participation and access to higher education.

On her appointment to the University of Cumbria she comments:

"It is an absolute honour to be joining the Board at such an exciting time for the University. I look forward to helping steer the delivery of the new exciting and ambitious Strategic Plan."