Youngest MP becomes GCU's oldest PhD graduate

29 November 2018

A former Labour government minister who was once the youngest MP to be elected to Westminster has become Glasgow Caledonian University’s oldest PhD graduate at the age of 76.

Dr Les Huckfield was nicknamed the Baby of the House when he was elected as MP for Nuneaton at the age of just 24 in 1967.

He held the seat for 16 years and served as a minister in the department of industry under James Callaghan’s government.

Now more than 50 years after completing his undergraduate degree in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University, he has graduated with a PhD from GCU.

Les said: “My wife Margaret is very understanding and I have a very understanding family who have supported me throughout this.

“Without my family and without some very helpful people at GCU, I couldn't have done it.

“There are some very good people here to help people like me. They understand the whys and wherefores of students from vastly different backgrounds. The staff here in academic support and the library have been superb.”

Les, who served as MEP for Merseyside East from 1984 to 1989 after leaving Westminster, wrote his thesis on how charities and social enterprises can support local communities.

The keen runner, who regularly competes in half-marathons, started his PhD at GCU in 2013 after graduating from Herriot Watt University, in Edinburgh, with a master's degree in regional and urban planning.

He said: “I’ve been involved with the third sector working with social enterprises and community organisations for a long time and I’m very concerned we are at risk of destroying some good organisations by forcing them to compete with the private sector.

“My thesis looks at how we can return charities and social enterprises to doing what they do best - and that’s supporting communities.”

Les, who also teaches at GCU, has no plans to slow down his hectic work schedule.

He added: “I still plan to carry on lecturing. I'm doing 15 hours a week next trimester, I'm supervising dissertation students as well, I've got some research papers I'm involved in and conference papers to do.

“I'm not going to sit around just because I've got my PhD. Retirement has never occurred to me."

Professor Cam Donaldson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise at GCU, said: “Les is a credit to Glasgow Caledonian University, but, more importantly, to himself.

“His achievements show that talent, in this case in terms of achieving the highest level of degree qualification in the shape of a PhD, has no bounds.

“In Les’s case this is with respect to age, but it applies to gender, ethnicity, disability and socio-economic status as well.

“It is important that universities maintain their position as bastions of opportunity. This is how we enrich not only individual students but also the whole student community.”