Dr Ann Limb

Areas of Interest

Education, Business, Charity

Honorary Award

Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, 2003


Born in Manchester in 1953, Ann Limb is an educationalist, businesswoman and charity patron. After gaining her first degree in French she went on to postgraduate study in Applied Linguistics and Management. She began her teaching career in her native Manchester before moving to High Peak College in Derbyshire, and later to Milton Keynes College where she was appointed Principal in 1988. In 1996 Ann took over as Principal at Cambridge Regional College and subsequently played a key role in the college's inclusion into the Anglia Ruskin University Regional Partnership. In 2001 she was appointed Chief Executive of the University for Industry and in 2004 joined the strategic management consultancy gov3 as Vice President for e-learning. Ann has a distinguished voluntary service record with the Citizen's Advice Bureau, Zimbabwe Trust and the National Ecumenical Agency. Her work with the Helena Kennedy Foundation reflects her commitment to promoting social inclusion and widening participation in education.

In 2003 Dr Ann Limb was made an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy.


The Senate of Anglia Polytechnic University is pleased to confer the award of Honorary Doctor of Philosophy on Ann Limb. Anglia Polytechnic University is one of those universities which has always taken access, participation and opportunity as a central element in its mission, a fact which is amply demonstrated in the extensive regional partnership of colleges and the high proportion of adult and part-time students. It is fitting that we honour Ann Limb for her significant contributions to these developments at institutional, regional and national levels.

Ann Limb is proud of the fact that she was born of working class origins in Moss Side in Manchester, an inner city area of the UK still characterised by underprivilege, low career expectations and a range of formidable social problems. This background has clearly been a major formative influence in the development of her philosophy and career. Acquiring a grammar school place in 1964 was considered an achievement way beyond normal parental expectations in Moss Side. Her subsequent achievement of a degree in French and postgraduate qualifications in Applied Linguistics Education and Management at Liverpool University, Nottingham Trent and Sheffield Hallam (as they now are) would be considered mind-blowing by many from this area of limited ambition. Ann Limb's subsequent career reflects an iron determination to open up such opportunities, quite literally, to all.

Further education was a natural outlet for her passion and crusading zeal, and she saw service in her native Manchester, followed by spells at High Peak College/North East Derbyshire College between 1980-86, before her desire to influence events and policy development saw her appointment as Vice Principal (1986-1988) and then Principal (1988-96) of Milton Keynes College. "Organisational transformation" is something of a hackneyed phrase, but it can certainly be used to describe what Ann Limb did at Milton Keynes - a quadrupling of the budget, a quintupling of student numbers, major capital projects, a succession of quality awards, and the securing of a higher education profile. In the crucible of Milton Keynes was forged the educational and managerial philosophy and style which has marked her activities ever since, in which the empowerment of the learner especially through open learning and ICT, the evolution of college cultures based on a 'can-do' approach; and a strong caring college community have been main features.

Her next major career shift was to Cambridge Regional College (1996-2001) again as Principal, another organisational transformation in terms of culture change, significant increases in the levels of student achievement and staff performance, fuelled by a complete re-focusing of the college's vision and strategic priorities, extensive use of ICT in learning, and the establishment of research initiatives. It was at Cambridge that her belief in the synergy generated by inter-institutional partnerships as a means of enhancing individual college performance particularly flowered. The particular manifestations of this were the Cambridgeshire Learning Partnership; the Cambridge Research Partnership; and, of course, the College's membership of the Anglia Polytechnic University Regional Partnership. The latter has been a major factor in the development of both APU and Cambridge Regional College, in terms of the mobility of students, joint course development and validations, staff co-operation. At Cambridge one of her major objectives - and achievements - was obtaining recognition and esteem for further education in a city renowned for its higher education - no mean feat. At Cambridge she also acquired greatly broadened perspectives deriving from the international setting of Cambridge, from much more exposure to national networking, and from working with the NHS as a Non Executive Director of the Addenbrookes Trust.

Her next move in 2001 was in many ways the logical next step, to a role of considerable national significance as Chief Executive of the University for Industry, and its operating arm, learndirect. This is a national e-learning service established by Government to take forward the concept of a university for industry through the stimulation of the demand for accessible lifelong learning for businesses and individuals. With a budget of £250 million, a national guidance service, 8,000 learning centres and 800 e-learning courses, Ann Limb has led UfI to be the world's largest public on-line learning service: learndirect will enrol its millionth learner later this autumn. This position has provided full scope for the more universal realisation of her philosophy of inclusiveness described earlier - 60% of learndirect's learners are new to learning and include offenders, asylum seekers and significant numbers of people with disabilities and from ethnic minority communities.

There are other manifestations of Ann's philosophy derived from her Christian beliefs and activities as a Quaker. These encompass a quite formidable track record with voluntary organisations and charities including the Citizens Advice Bureau, local hospices, Milton Keynes Counselling Foundation, Zimbabwe Trust, and the National Ecumenical Agency in Further Education. However, one of her proudest creations is the Helena Kennedy Foundation which she was founded in 1998. This independent educational charity has provided over a hundred higher education bursaries for underprivileged students. Ann has also been Chair of Governors of the National Extension College since 1996, and a Council member of a host of other boards in the general domain of adult learning, access and participation.

In many ways, her life's text is a passage from Hebrews "But to do good and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices is God well pleased." All this is a very long way from the early days at Moss Side, and for her splendid endeavours on behalf of the underprivileged, her major contributions to further and higher education, nationally and locally, and for her inspiring beliefs translated into actions, may I request you, Vice Chancellor to confer on Ann Limb the award of Honorary Doctor of Philosophy of this University.