A new Vice-Chancellor
Born in 1941, Robinson grew up in Yorkshire, the son of a spinning mill manager. He attended the Royal Masonic School for Boys in Hertfordshire, before beginning his university career at University College, Swansea. There, he completed an arts degree in sociology and politics, followed by a PhD in medical sociology. In 1971 he was appointed to a lectureship in the Addiction Research Unit of the Institute of Psychiatry in London. He was by then publishing at an astonishing rate, with no fewer than seven books in four years. His sociological approach to alcoholism was attracting international attention. In 1981, he won a chair at the University of Hull in his native Yorkshire, rising in the ranks to become a Dean and, later, a Pro Vice-Chancellor.
In 1992, Robinson moved to Australia as the Vice-Chancellor of the new University of South Australia. The new university thrived under his leadership. Following his successes in Adelaide, he became Monash’s fifth Vice-Chancellor in 1997 – the first Englishman to hold the position in two Australian universities.
From the beginning, Robinson’s leadership had both supporters and detractors. Those who liked him thought him to be hardworking and honest. Those who did not found him to be blunt and aggressive. Internally, Robinson butted heads with the Deans of Science and Arts over budget cuts that would result in hundreds of job losses. Many felt Robinson’s Monash was generous with overseas exploits but frugal among the faculties.
Robinson's most lasting contribution to Monash was the expansion of its international campuses. His belief that education would become the powerhouse of the New South Africa inspired the creation of a new campus in South Africa, although the venture wasn't opened until after his resignation. Research centres were created in Prato, Italy, and London.
In 2002, however, the British Times Higher Education Supplement printed anonymous accusations of plagiarism against Monash’s globetrotting vice-chancellor. After a Monash academic brought further examples, Chancellor Jerry Ellis announced that the two men had agreed that Robinson should leave the university. The Chancellor later insisted that Robinson had acted throughout the difficult affair with ‘great honour’.
After leaving Monash, Robinson moved into consulting work. He was chair of VERNet from 2005-07, but has not worked in higher education since.