Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor

Professor Karen Holford is Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor at Cranfield University and is married with two adult children.

Karen’s engineering career spans industry and academia; starting as an undergraduate in engineering at Rolls-Royce (Aero), gaining a BEng (Hons) at Cardiff University, followed by a PhD, sponsored by the HSE. She then took a role as graduate engineer at AB Electronic Products Ltd, culminating in a position as senior engineer with technical responsibility for all projects and leadership of a large mechanical design team. At Rolls-Royce she contributed to a range of technical projects including development of Adour and Pegasus engines in collaboration with engineers from Europe and the United States and spent an interesting period in engine strip and rebuild during the Falklands war. At AB Electronic Products she was responsible for management of technical projects, including the design and development of a significant new product (a thin film pressure sensor for BMW ABS systems), as well as developing automotive electronic products for Jaguar and Rover.

She returned to Cardiff University in 1990, pursuing an academic career where she engaged in research with industrial impact and research-led learning and teaching together with a significant administrative and leadership profile. Her primary research theme, damage assessment using acoustic emission, was pursued in collaboration with colleagues in the structural performance laboratory and applied across a range of industrial applications including bridges and aerospace landing gear. Her enthusiasm for user-inspired research led her to engage with industry at every level, from leading global engineering organisations through to local SMEs. Her passion for motorsport led her to form the successful Cardiff Racing Formula student team. She became Head of the School of Engineering in 2010, led the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering as the founding Pro-Vice-Chancellor 2012-2017, and served as DVC from 2017 to 2021.

Professor Karen Holford

Karen was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2015 and in 2016 was named as one of the 50 most influential women engineers in the UK. In 2017, Karen received a CBE for services to engineering and the advancement of women in engineering. In 2018 she was named as one of Wales’ 100 most influential women and in 2019 she received the Suffrage Science award in Physical Sciences and Engineering. She received the WISE Excellence Award for 'personal contribution to engineering' and a long-term commitment to supporting girls and young women in science and engineering in 2007, the Welsh Woman of the Year in Science and Technology for 'notable achievements in her field' in 2006 and the Royal Academy of Engineering prize for 'Engineering Excellence' in TCS work in 2002.

Karen has served as a non-executive Council member for UKRI STFC and as a member of the ESPRC Strategic Advisory Network, having previously served as the external Chair of the EPSRC Engineering Strategic Advisory Team. From 2020 to 2022, Karen served as the Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Committee. Since 2020 Karen has been a member of the National Physical Laboratory Science and Technology Advisory Council, and currently serves on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Universities Group Board, and on the Oxford Cambridge Supercluster Board. In 2023 she took up the role of Chair of the Midlands Innovation University Partnership Board and joined the Board of Universities UK.