Judith Petts
The University of Plymouth’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Judith Petts has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to higher education and sustainability in the King’s Birthday Honours 2024.
In a distinguished career, spanning five decades, Dame Judith has consistently sought to bridge the gap between environmental leadership and societal action.
And, since becoming Vice-Chancellor in 2016, she has grown the University’s position as a financially secure academic powerhouse for Plymouth, the South West region and beyond.

To receive such an honour is truly humbling and also a little daunting. As with all honours it is recognition of the amazing people and teams I have been privileged to work with and be inspired by.

Professor Dame Judith Petts DBE
Vice-Chancellor and CEO, University of Plymouth
Under Dame Judith’s leadership, Plymouth has twice been named among the world’s top five universities for marine science and engineering in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings. It has also seen 78 per cent of its submission assessed as internationally excellent in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, received its third Queen’s Anniversary prize, for marine microplastics research and policy impact, and been shortlisted as University of the Year in the 2022 THE Awards.
The University delivers £819 million of output to the UK economy each year. In 2023 the institution achieved a ‘triple gold’ in the Teaching Excellence Framework – reflecting outstanding performance in student experience and outcomes, as well as in the overall rating. It was also the second UK institution to be verified as carbon neutral.
Dame Judith announced her retirement in January and will finish as Vice-Chancellor at the end of September.

Dame Judith has been a towering figure during her years as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Plymouth. She is a leader of considerable vision and clarity, and this honour is a fitting tribute to the indelible mark she has left on the city and the university.

Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum
Chancellor, University of Plymouth
Dame Judith’s impact as an educationalist and policy influencer stretches regionally, nationally and internationally.
She was one of the founding signatories of Marine Research Plymouth, a partnership between the University, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association designed to cement Plymouth as the go-to location for world-leading marine research.
Other achievements include leading roles in prominent initiatives driving the South West’s future economic prosperity, including the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport, the Appledore Clean Maritime Innovation Centre, the Great South West initiative – where she chairs the Energy Programme Board – and the National Centre for Coastal Autonomy. 
Dame Judith is also widely respected as a powerful advocate for climate-related innovation, decarbonisation, and the push for net zero.
Ahead of the COP26 conference in 2021, she helped transform the UK HE sector’s approach to the climate crisis. As Chair of Universities UK’s Climate Task and Finish Group, she led the development of a joined-up, substantive response to the climate crisis and secured climate commitments from 140 institutions to deliver lasting benefits for the economy and the environment.
And in Plymouth, Dame Judith has woven sustainability into the University’s £250 million Campus Masterplan.
During her time at the University, the Derriford Research Facility, InterCity Place and Babbage Building are among key developments that have been delivered, while redevelopment of the Fitzroy Building is on track for completion this year, closely followed by the creation of a new park at the heart of Plymouth’s city centre campus.