Professor Paul White

School of Geography and Planning

Emeritus Professor

Emeritus Deputy Vice-Chancellor
+44 114 222 7948

Full contact details

Professor Paul White
School of Geography and Planning
Geography and Planning Building
Winter Street
S3 7ND

Paul White retired in July 2016 as Professor of European Urban Geography.  He is also Emeritus Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, and a Public Orator for the University.

Paul took his bachelor’s and DPhil degrees at the University of Oxford and was appointed to a lectureship at Sheffield in 1974, being successively promoted to senior lecturer, then reader, and finally to Professor in 1997. He has also held visiting appointments at the University of Oxford, the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), Università degli Studi di Cagliari (Italy), and the Universidad de Zaragoza (Spain).

From 2004 to 2014 Paul served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Sheffield. He acted as Vice-Chancellor for several months during the period 2013-14 and was then Deputy Vice-Chancellor until April 2015 when he stepped down after exactly 11 years on the University’s Executive Board.

Paul is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and in 2006 he was presented with the Society’s Edward Heath Award for geographical research on Europe. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2011. And he was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List of 2016 “for services to higher education”. Since 2015 he has been a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of South Yorkshire.  In May 2022 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Sheffield, highlighting his contributions to higher education policy and practice across the UK and internationally, as well as his work as a geographer. Since formal retirement he has acted as consultant to higher education institutions in a number of countries and has also taken up new research interests.  He is Vice-Chair of the Trustee Board of the Students’ Union at the University of Sheffield.

In 2008 Paul published a centenary history of the Department of Geography at Sheffield, entitled To Understand Our World: 100 Years of Geography at the University of Sheffield.

Paul has lectured or given talks in French, German and Italian, and also has some ability in reading materials in Dutch and Portuguese.

Research interests

Research interests

Although he originally researched aspects of change in European rural societies, Paul’s main research interests later broadened to incorporate population change, migration, social change and urban structures in Europe. In addition to over 100 book chapters and articles, he has published or edited a number of books on these and related topics.  Throughout his career Paul has been interested in demonstrating the value of comparative approaches to understanding how significant issues are conceptualised and dealt with in different countries.  Since formal retirement he has embarked on a major project making comparisons between Europe as a whole and China, focusing on mentalities and attitudes towards rural areas and the countryside: his research partner in this project is Dr Xiaojing Wen of Shanghai Jiaotong University.  Two articles have so far been published:

Paul’s published books are as follows:

  • A Brief History of Chinese Design Thought (with Qi Shao and Xiaojing Wen) 2022.
  • Global Japan: The experience of Japan’s New Immigrant and Overseas Communities (edited with R. Goodman, C. Peach and A. Takenaka) 2003.
  • Immigration and Place in Mediterranean Metropolises (edited with M.L. Fonseca, J. Malheiros, N. Ribas-Mateos, and A. Esteves), 2002.
  • Writing Across Worlds: Literature and Migration (edited with R. King and J. Connell), 1995; Paris (with D. Noin), 1997.
  • Europe’s Population: Towards the Next Century (edited with R. Hall), 1995.
  • Migrants in Modern France (edited with P.E. Ogden), 1989.
  • West European Population Change (edited with A.M. Findlay), 1986.
  • Contemporary Studies of Migration (edited with G.A. van der Knaap), 1985.
  • The West European City: A Social Geography, 1984.
  • The Geographical Impact of Migration (edited with R.I. Woods), 1980.

During his period on the University of Sheffield’s Executive Board, and in various other national roles, Paul’s research activities were reduced. 

Paul has presented research material at conferences and seminars in many countries including Austria, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, and Spain.

Teaching interests

Paul taught throughout his 11 years on the University’s Executive Board, including every year delivering his Third Year undergraduate option on the Social Geography of Europe (to up to 69 students). His approach to teaching was student-focused and enquiry-based and involved students generating their own learning materials through the creation of wikis, role play exercises, the creation of business plans, slide packs, and presentations – all carried out in small sub-groups within a larger seminar group framework. Evaluations of this pedagogic style, and of the course as a whole, were outstanding.

In 2014 he was made a Senate Teaching Fellow for sustained excellence in the delivery of teaching. And in 2015 he was presented with a Faculty of Social Sciences outstanding teacher award.

Paul has had a particular interest in field teaching, and during his career he taught or led 29 field classes abroad – 3 in Normandy (France), 12 in Paris, and 14 in Berlin. He has additionally taught field classes in the UK.

Earlier in his career Paul had experience of teaching at all levels, from Level 1 undergraduate to postgraduate training programmes. He was the primary supervisor to 22 PhD students who have gone on to significant employment in Ethiopia, France, Germany, Greece and Japan as well as the UK.

Paul has also acted as external examiner for undergraduate programmes at a number of UK universities including Dundee, Leeds, Oxford, Plymouth, and St Andrews. As well as examining many PhDs in the UK he has also been a regular member of juries for doctoral evaluation in French universities and has also taught on a postgraduate training programme in Helsinki and acted as PhD examiner at the University of Tartu (Estonia).

Paul was also a member of the group set up by the Quality Assurance Agency and the Royal Geographical Society to create a benchmark statement for Geography degrees throughout the UK.

Professional activities and memberships

Paul retains a role at the University of Sheffield as a Public Orator for honorary degrees. He is also Vice-Chair of the Trustee Board of the Students’ Union.

During his period on the University’s Executive Board Paul played a key role in many significant areas of University activity and University committees. Among such committee roles were:

  • Member, University Council
  • Member, Senate
  • Chair, ordinary meetings of the University Executive Board (2013-15), member 2004-15
  • Chair (2014-15) and member, Estates and Capital Sub-Group (reporting to the Executive Board)
  • Member, University Council’s Human Resources Committee
  • Member, Careers Advisory Board
  • Member, Research and Innovation Committee
  • Chair, Learning and Teaching Committee
  • Chair, Student Fees and Numbers Group (reporting to the Executive Board)
  • Chair, Admissions and Outreach Sub-Committee
  • Chair, Enhancement and Strategy Sub-Committee
  • Chair, Costing and Pricing Group
  • Chair, Library User Group; Chair Computing Services User Group
  • Chair, Student Support Forum
  • Chair, Honorary Degrees Committee
  • Chair, Readerships and Personal Chairs Promotion Committee
  • Member, Student Services Executive Team
  • Member, Risk Review Group
  • Presiding at degree ceremonies
  • Extensive contacts with alumni, in the UK and abroad

In addition to long-term responsibility for all aspects of the quality of the delivery of taught programmes, Paul also had responsibility during his period as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the following areas of the University’s activities:

  • Corporate Affairs
  • Development, Alumni Relations and Events
  • International Affairs
  • Strategy, Planning and Governance

Significant projects on which Paul led during his period on the University’s Executive included:

  • The construction of the Information Commons - £32 million prize-winning integrated student library and IT facility
  • ‘301’ – a £2 million conversion project to create a student skills hub
  • Creation of a student support strategy for new residences
  • Creation of a Sheffield Graduate Award
  • Winning bids for two Centres for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and the later sustainable conversion of one into ‘University of Sheffield Enterprise’
  • Creation of an integrated ‘Languages for All’ programme
  • Playing a significant role in leading the University of Sheffield to Number 1 place in the 2011-2 Student Experience Survey
  • Leading the University of Sheffield in two successful QAA institutional audits
  • Setting up a pathway college for international students, managing its relationship with the university, and successfully managing its transition to a new provider at the ending of the initial contract
  • Generating a structure to support the University’s creation of MOOCs under the Futurelearn brand
  • Mentoring senior academic women through to successful chair promotions
  • The creation of a promotion pathway to professorships for those whose primary function in the University is teaching
  • Creating a very successful 13 department Faculty of Social Sciences out of what had previously been one medium-sized and two small Faculties
  • The creation and maintenance of the University’s widening participation strategies, and liaison with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). Also leading on Sheffield’s contribution to the ‘Realising Opportunities’ consortium of 14 Universities delivering collaborative widening participation initiatives.
  • Managing the relationship with City College, Thessaloniki, including its conversion into an International Faculty of the University. This College has now transitioned to the University of York.

Paul has held a variety of roles in national sector-wide bodies in the UK. These include:

  • Member, Teaching Quality and Student Experience strategic advisory committee of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2009-15. This also involved membership of a variety of sub-groups and special purpose committees, including (among other things) revisions to national quality assurance systems; HEFCE’s role in guaranteeing the student interest; the remit of the Higher Education Academy; revisions to the National Student Survey.
  • Member of the Financial Sustainability Steering Group’s task-and-finish groups on the sustainable delivery of high quality teaching: reports published in 2008 and 2014.
  • Co-Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Network, 2009-13
  • Chair of the Russell Group’s Pro-Vice-Chancellors in Learning and Teaching, 2011-14, also involving organising their twice-yearly meetings
  • Member of the Europe Advisory Group of the Russell Group – including participating in meetings with the Commission in Brussels
  • Director, MyScience Ltd – the body running the National Science Learning Centre at the University of York
  • National lead for two years on the project to replace Honours Degree Classification with the use of Grade Point Averages. Paul handed this role on to the Higher Education Academy and Sir Bob Burgess when the group of originally interested universities expanded. The proposed GPA framework in the resultant HEA report was largely created by Paul.

Over the years Paul has spoken at a number of major national conferences on a variety of higher educational matters. He has also published commentaries on policy proposals and trends in outlets such as the Guardian, Research Fortnightly, and Times Higher Education. And he has provided advice and training to a number of UK Universities as part of their preparation for QAA reviews.

In relation to his research, Paul has served as Secretary and later as Chair of the Royal Geographical Society’s Population Geography Research Group. He is on the editorial boards of Geography journals published in the UK and in Belgium.

At an international level Paul for some years led an ERASMUS-SOCRATES student exchange network involving universities in Bochum (Germany), Grenoble (France), Sheffield (UK), Turku (Finland), Verona (Italy), Zaragoza (Spain), and Zürich (Switzerland). He also chaired the Learning and Teaching group of the Worldwide Universities Network, involving 16 universities on 3 continents at the time.

Paul has taken part in institutional visits to a number of universities and higher education bodies abroad including in China, Germany and the Caribbean. He has also taken a lead role in the launch of new distributed learning degree programmes in Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.

In 2015 Paul delivered a plenary address to a conference of the leading Australian (the Group of 8) and Chinese (C9) universities in Adelaide.

Since formal retirement Paul has become an Associate of Advance HE, for which he has undertaken a number of reviews of academic governance in a variety of UK universities.  He is also a member of the panel for institution-wide quality audits for the University Grants Committee in Hong Kong and has worked on two such audits to date.