Former Vice-Chancellor and Principal awarded Doctor of Laws

11 October 2022

Dr Michael Spence AC presented Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa)

The University of Sydney awards former Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence AC, a Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) to celebrate his exceptional service over the decades.  


Former Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence AC.

The University of Sydney’s former Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence AC, was awarded Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) on Tuesday, 11 October, presided over by Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AC.

"It's an honour to celebrate Dr Spence's immense contribution to the University of Sydney and the field of intellectual property law. His service over the decades has had a lasting and continuing impact on Sydney, tertiary education, law, and of course, his philanthropic efforts have set new precedents," said Chancellor Hutchinson. "In the 12 years he led the University, Dr Spence left an inspiring legacy that will permeate the institution for years to come."

Dr Spence graduated from the University of Sydney in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts and first class honours in English and Italian, and then in 1987, he received first class honours in law. 

After completing his studies, he became a lecturer in law at the University and worked for the Australian Copyright Council. He left his roles to study at Oxford in the United Kingdom, obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy and a postgraduate diploma in Theology. Dr Spence became a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, and during his 20 years at Oxford, he was the head of the Law Faculty, chair of the Law Board, and finally the Head of the Social Sciences Division. 

Dr Spence’s work on the international stage has made him a recognised and revered leader in intellectual property theory, which he has given lectures on around the world and published articles and books.  

In the 12 years he led the University, Dr Spence left an inspiring legacy that will permeate the institution for years to come.
Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AC

In 1987, he was admitted to the Supreme Court of NSW, and he went on to hold numerous visiting appointments in Boston, Munich, and Siena – he also took on the role of a Parsons Fellow at the University of Sydney Law School twice. 

Dr Spence’s greatest contributions to the University of Sydney reflect a tenure marked by a successful effort to position the University as a leading global institution.

His influence began in 2008 when he returned to the University as its 25th Vice-Chancellor and Principal. During his posting, he established ten new multidisciplinary initiatives, funded cutting-edge research, invested in world-leading infrastructure, undertook a major and radical overhaul of the undergraduate curriculum, opened up new pathways for students from schools in under-resourced areas, developed a vital Indigenous strategy, and appointed the first Deputy Vice-Chancellor Indigenous in Australia.

Dr Michael Spence AC was the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney for 12 years.

As a result of his leadership, the University successfully nurtured its engagement with key international institutions, and Dr Spence became a powerful voice for higher education's importance during a challenging public policy environment. He also revolutionised the boundaries of philanthropy strategy by making Sydney the first University in Australia to commence a major whole-of-institution public fundraising campaign, which resulted in the University becoming the first institution in the country to obtain $1 billion in philanthropic support. As a result, many other tertiary institutions have followed suit. 

Dr Spence was celebrated nationally and internationally in 2017 when he was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours List and a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Asia-Pacific Leadership Award in 2019. 

To recognise Dr Spence's 12 years of service as our Vice-Chancellor and Principal the Administration Building was renamed the Michael Spence Building, and a plaque with one of his most memorable quotes, “We must learn to disagree well," was erected under the Memorial Arch beside the quadrangle. 

In 2020, he was awarded a Diploma of Language Studies (Korean) from Sydney, and in January 2022, he began his new role as President and Provost at University College London.

Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the wider community or who have achieved exceptional academic or creative excellence.

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