Paul Benneworth in memoriam

Paul Benneworth was a central and essential part of the RUNIN team and we collectively mourn his sudden and untimely passing as a much loved friend and colleague. His loss is a huge personal blow for his family and friends, but also an enormous loss to the RUNIN community in terms of his insights, creativity, commitment to supporting young researchers and the genuine affection he inspired in others. RUNIN includes both Paul’s PhD supervisor David Charles, several of his current PhD students, other early-career scholars for whom he was a mentor, and many other colleagues and friends in the academic community.

Paul was involved in work on universities and regions throughout his career, working with the Regional Mission project for the Higher Education Funding Council for England already from his PhD days. This led to an ESRC project ‘Bringing Cambridge to Consett’ looking at university spin offs in peripheral regions. It included a comparison between North East England and Twente in the Netherlands which began his relationship with the University of Twente and its region. Other university projects followed with OECD and an ESRC project on universities and socially disadvantaged communities. However, the connection Paul had developed with Twente led him to a move away from his home region in North East England to a senior researcher job at the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies in Twente in 2009. Paul took to life in the Netherlands, moving to a small village in the Twente region with his wife Leanne. Paul had started learning Dutch at Newcastle when he first began comparative work with Twente and became very proficient. His colleagues at Twente recall how he integrated into the local community. He had always been a keen cyclist, and colleagues in CURDS remember how he used to arrive in his cycling lycra in all weathers, so cycling to work in Twente was second nature.

While in Twente, Paul continued his work on regional universities and became involved in the European Consortium of Innovative Universities, in which the University of Twente was a member. He participated in the inaugural meeting of what was to become the RUNIN network in September 2013. Paul was heavily involved in the writing of the bid over three submissions before it was funded from 2016. He had many ideas that came to form the project, including for different impact initiatives aimed at communicating with regional stakeholders.

Paul led the WP on the theme of places and territories and made this a genuine collaboration across the researchers involved, resulting in several joint publications. He also took the initiative for a special issue of Regional Studies, Regional Science, which compiled 10 papers from the project, edited the RUNIN working paper series and coordinated conference special sessions from the project. These initiatives helped to provide plentiful opportunities for dissemination and publication for the early-career researchers in RUNIN, as well as giving several of them experience of editorial work. Paul took charge of RUNIN’s social media presence, sharing the early-career researchers’ work enthusiastically both from the project’s and his own Twitter account. The training week he led in Twente was amazing in the way he got regional partners involved. He organised focus groups and led the early-career researchers to make recommendations to the region that were enthusiastically received.

In 2019 Paul was appointed to a well-deserved professorship of innovation and regional development at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Bergen. He continued to participate actively in RUNIN, supervising PhD students and contributing to all aspects of the project. It is telling that many of us were in e-mail contact with him about several different issues in the days before his passing.

Paul was a great mentor and unstoppable supporter of the early-stage researchers of the RUNIN project. Not only did he show perpetual commitment to the researchers he supervised, but he was also in contact with and supported all the other young researchers in so many ways: long pages of feedbacks, Skype supervision meetings, co-authoring papers, elaborately planning future career options and academic projects, informal gatherings and many more. All of these while he was engaged in an incredible amount of other activities and rarely remained in the same place for longer than three days.

Having a great understanding of the challenges that the first steps of an academic career could entail, he showed us how to find our individual ways through the academic labyrinth. He had an open ear for anyone that came to him with a problem or a doubt, be it academic or private. His Twitter account is a testament to that, being full of gratitude and sadness from early-career researchers all around the world. In a world full of senior academics that can seem primarily busy and concerned with their own academic careers, Paul was a refreshing example of an academic that cares about you and takes an extra step in helping you develop your own way. He took great joy witnessing the academic development of his PhD students and other early-career researchers. Today’s academic world definitely needs more Pauls! He was a great model for many of us and we will be forever thankful for having had the opportunity to learn so much from him.

Paul made an enormous contribution to the literature and to the next generation of researchers, but at 46 he had at least half of his career still ahead of him. He was universally liked and respected, and was down to earth with no airs and graces, usually with a smile on his face, and an excellent companion whether over a beer or discussing theory on a panel. He was a great scholar and true original. Our thoughts go out to his wife Leanne and their two children.

Aalborg June 2017

See also the mémoire made by the 14 PhD fellows of the RUNIN project.