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Sir Keith Murray (1903–1993)

by G. E. Sherington

This article was published:

Sir Keith Anderson Hope Murray, Baron Murray of Newhaven (1903–1993), chairman of the Committee on Australian Universities, was born on 28 July 1903 in Edinburgh, third son of London-born Charles David Murray, advocate, later lord advocate of Scotland, and his Scottish-born wife Annie Florence, née Nicolson. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and the University of Edinburgh (BSc, 1925). The recipient of a Commonwealth Fund fellowship (1926), he attended Cornell University (PhD, 1929), New York State, United States of America, before undertaking further study at the University of Oxford (BLitt, 1931; MA, 1932). Later he joined the Agricultural Economics Research Institute at Oxford University, his research culminating in the agricultural volume in the official history of World War II edited by (Sir) Keith Hancock.

In 1937 Murray was appointed fellow and bursar of Lincoln College, Oxford. He was commissioned in the Royal Air Force in 1941 as an officer in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch. Elected rector of Lincoln College (1944–53), he rebuilt the college and rearranged its finances before being appointed chairman of the University Grants Committee in Britain (1953–63). He was knighted in 1955. As chairman of the UGC, he oversaw a program of national expansion; seven new universities were established and capital grants grew fifteen-fold. Sensitive to university independence, he ensured that universities could exercise autonomy in all key areas.

Sir Keith’s achievements attracted attention in Australia. As a result of burgeoning student numbers in the immediate postwar period, Australian universities were overcrowded and underfunded. Following the report of a special committee chaired by R. C. Mills in 1951, Commonwealth legislation provided for grants to the States to meet some of the needs of universities. However, Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies remained reluctant to involve the Commonwealth in their internal affairs. After being briefed on funding arrangements for universities in the United Kingdom, Menzies met Murray in London in March 1956 and asked him to undertake a ‘widely cast’ (Martin 1999, 396) enquiry into the future of Australian universities.

Murray arrived in Australia in June 1957 to chair the Committee on Australian Universities. The other members were Sir Ian Clunies Ross, Sir Charles Morris, (Sir) Alexander Reid, and Jack Richards. The committee toured the country, visiting all seven Australian universities. Completed in September 1957, the Report of the Committee on Australian Universities recommended that £22 million be granted to universities over the next three years as an emergency measure; proposed ways to cope with the projected expansion of students over the next decade, such as providing Commonwealth funds for new buildings and equipment, including residential colleges; and suggested that a permanent committee be established to advise on university policy and development. The bulk of its recommendations were adopted. It led to the establishment of the Australian Universities Commission in 1959, which created the basis for Commonwealth funding over the next two decades.

While completing the report, Murray took time out to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground and watch the Victorian Football League series finals. He later visited Australia several times. A large sociable man, he was imbued with the ethic of public service, his Scottish Presbyterian aristocratic background easing his access to institutions of influence and privilege. His research interests in planning and development, formed in transatlantic contexts and then in wartime, fostered the idea of governments supporting and modernising universities. He was appointed KCB in 1963, and made a life peer in 1964. After retirement from public service, Lord Murray of Newhaven served as director (1965–72) of the Leverhulme Trust, and a trustee (1965–73) of the Wellcome Trust. Never married, he spent his last years alone in a modest London flat. He died on 10 October 1993 at Putney. His estate was valued at £1,173,780. A portrait of him by A. C. Davidson-Houston hangs at Lincoln College.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Australia. Report of the Committee on Australian Universities. Canberra: Government Printer, 1957
  • Australian Vice-Chancellor’s Committee. Conference of Australian Universities, 1961. Melbourne: AVCC, 1961
  • Canberra Times. ‘Key Developer of Our Universities.’ 27 October 1993, 14
  • Canberra Times. ‘Murray Report Adopted.’ 29 November 1957, 1
  • Caston, Geoffrey. ‘Murray, Keith Anderson Hope, Baron Murray of Newhaven.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 17 May 2018. Copy held on ADB file
  • Forsyth, Hannah. A History of the Modern Australian University System. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2014
  • Martin, A. W. Robert Menzies: A Life. Vol. 2, 1944–1978. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999
  • Menzies, Robert Gordon. The Measure of the Years. London: Cassell, 1970

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. E. Sherington, 'Murray, Sir Keith (1903–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 22 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 July, 1903
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


10 October, 1993 (aged 90)
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death

heart disease

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