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Encouraging talent: Sussex alumnus supports three new masters scholarships in Engineering

John Kinghorn c.1973

John Kinghorn at the Chancellor's Reception 2018

John Kinghorn (ENGG 1968), the generous supporter of three new MSc scholarships in engineering at Sussex, always knew that he wanted to study electronic engineering.

“I was very much into building radios and things in the garden shed, so I made up my mind in my early teenage years that electronics was the thing I wanted to do for a career.

“I chose to study for my degree at Sussex partly because of the campus - the architecture and the beautiful setting in lovely parkland - and partly because Sussex wasn’t hidebound by tradition. There was a real willingness to make a fundamental difference, and a robust independence from traditional ways of doing things which appealed to me very much.”

On graduating from Sussex, John went on to pursue a highly successful career as an engineer and manager with the global electronics company Philips. He remained with them in various roles until retiring in 2007. It was at this point that he rekindled his relationship with Sussex.

“I had sort of forgotten about Sussex during most of my career, but I attended a thirtieth-anniversary reunion on campus and it reminded me of how much I liked the atmosphere of it – both the physical atmosphere and the intellectual independence of the University. It also reminded me how much I owed the place.”

Thanks to this sense of gratitude, and in keeping with Sussex’s core value of being a force for good in the world, John decided to make his inspirational and extraordinarily generous gift to the University.

His gift will provide three MSc scholarships: the John Kinghorn Masters Scholarship in Engineering, the John Kinghorn Masters Scholarship for Women in Engineering, and the Sussex Future Leaders Masters Scholarship in Engineering (2018). These scholarships will allow three of the brightest and best engineering students access to the quality education and transformative student experience that Sussex provides, regardless of their financial backgrounds.

On the motivation behind his philanthropy, John comments:

“Having an understanding of student financial difficulties now, compared to what I was lucky enough to experience, was certainly a factor in thinking I can maybe do something to alleviate these problems a little bit.

“It’s really a question of trying to encourage talent from whatever background students might come, rich or poor.”

Women in engineering

John’s interest in providing scholarships in engineering is an obvious one in light of his own studies and career. But why support a scholarship for women engineers in particular?

“When I started working for Phillips after graduating in 1971, there were only a small percentage of women in the engineering profession. If you’d told me that in about 50 years’ time the proportion of women would be nearly as low as it was then, I wouldn’t have believed you”.

Mirroring Sussex’s own promotion of gender parity, John adds:

“I think we need to nurture those women that do come through the system in spite of everything. We could do a lot to make use of their abilities. The engineering profession needs all the talent it can get!

“I suppose my long-term cunning plan is to encourage more good engineers in general, and more good women engineers in particular, into the profession. Many will set up new businesses and improve the attractiveness of the industry as a whole, encouraging a broader diversity of people to work in it.”

Making a change for the better via innovation

John acknowledges the profound effect that Sussex had on him, including on his desire to innovate, and, to this day, he remains involved with organisations and projects that foster innovation. At Philips he ran an innovation group that was heavily involved in the development of the Teletext TV information system, and nowadays he is Secretary of the Wessex Region of Technologists and Inventors, an organisation which offers support to budding inventors. He has also written a book, putting forward his own re-working of intercity train design and architecture with a view to making them more attractive to both passengers and train operators.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that, in addition to the three masters scholarships, John is funding a new sensors laboratory in the School of Engineering and Informatics.

“When I heard about the proposed new laboratory it sounded like a very good thing to support. For example the electric field sensors developed at Sussex use technology that was known about for years, but until fairly recently the practicalities and potential applications had not really been followed up. There are probably many similar ideas lurking in dusty academic papers which could be turned into useful products, leading to successful businesses, and I would like to encourage that”.

John is quick to add that, as a philanthropist, he wants to act merely as a facilitator, helping others develop their own ideas, not simply his own.

Supporting Sussex now and in the future

Referring to his motivation for making his significant and much-valued gift to Sussex, John says:

“From my point of view, I’d made up my mind probably 10 years ago that I was going to give a legacy to Sussex so that when I died a pot of money would be used for useful things like supporting students.

“Then, having inherited some money from my late father, it seemed to make sense to give some away now as well, so that I actually have a chance of seeing what effect it has while I’m still around to observe it.

“I would commend that as a philosophy for other people considering making gifts to Sussex. Don’t just hoard it to watch the numbers go up and down in some bank account, why not spend some of it now and make a real difference to somebody who needs it?”

To make a gift to the University of Sussex please visit our webpage, or contact the Development and Alumni Relations office by email at or by telephone on 01273 678 258.

For more information about the John Kinghorn MSc Scholarships and the Sussex Future Leaders Engineering Scholarship (2018) please refer to our scholarships webpage.

By: Emma Wigmore
Last updated: Wednesday, 27 June 2018