Sir Alec Cairncross Scotland

Biography of Sir Alec Cairncross

Sir Alec and Lady Cairncross
Sir Alec and Lady Cairncross

Sir Alexander Kirkland [Alec] Cairncross (1911-1998), economist and public servant, was a graduate, lecturer and professor at the University, and served as Chancellor from 1972 to 1996. The Alec Cairncross Chair of Applied Economics, Sir Alexander Cairncross Prize, Cairncross House and the Cairncross Room at Crichton Campus, which houses his personal library, are named for him.

Born in Lesmahagow, Cairncross graduated with first class honours in Economics at the University in 1933 and then gained a doctorate at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1935 he was appointed a lecturer in Economics at the University and he also lectured at the West of Scotland Agricultural College.

Cairncross worked in a number of Government departments during and immediately after the Second World War. He returned to the University in 1951 as Professor of Applied Economics, where he started to develop a programme of multi-disciplinary research directed at a better understanding of the processes of urban and industrial change that characterized the postwar era, and so provided a platform for the later contribution of his departmental successor, Donald Robertson. During the 1950s he was often engaged as an adviser by the British Government and organisations such as the World Bank. In 1961 he left the University to become an economic adviser to the Treasury. Cairncross was appointed KCMG in 1967.

In 1967 Cairncross was appointed Master of St Peter's College, Oxford. He returned to the University five years later as Chancellor and he wrote later that "I doubt whether I ever had a prouder moment."

Among Cairncross's most influential publications were the text book Introduction to Economics, which appeared in six editions after the Second World War, and Years of Recovery: British Economic Policy, 1945-1951 (1985). His autobiography Living With the Century was published in 1998.


Sir Alec Cairncross
Economist and Public Servant

Born 11 February 1911, Lesmahagow, Scotland.
Died 21 October 1998.
GU Degree: MA, 1933;
University Link: Alumnus, Benefactor, Chancellor, Lecturer, Professor
Occupation categories: economists; public servants
NNAF Reference: GB/NNAF/P165921
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Record last updated: 23rd Feb 2011

Country Associations

Scotland Scotland
Place of Birth

University Connections

University Roles

  • Chancellor, 1972-1995
  • Alumnus
  • Benefactor
  • Lecturer
  • Professor


Academic Posts



World Changing Achievements

Sir Alec Cairncross is listed on the University of Glasgow World Changing website.