Educated at Caulfield Grammar School, the University of Melbourne and the University of Cambridge where he received a Ph.D., Karmel had served as the Vice-Chancellor of both Flinders University (1966) and the Australian National University (1982-1987); he was the first person to hold the position at Flinders. The Peter Karmel Building at the ANU School of Music is named in his honour.
His economic research included a focus on educational issues. In 1962, at the University of Melbourne during the third annual conference of the Australian College of Educators, he delivered the inaugural Buntine Oration, on the topic "Some Economic Aspects of Education". Professor Karmel released a 1973 report commissioned by the Whitlam government named Schools in Australia which influenced the government's funding of state schools.
Karmel died in Canberra on 30 December 2008, aged 86.
He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1967, a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1976, and awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 "for leadership in Australian higher education and for being a leading academic".
- Smith, Bridie (3 January 2009). "Karmel's lessons heard". The Age.
- "GMB Architects, Peter Karmel Building Project". Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- Centre for the Mind (2009). Who We Are. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
- It's An Honour (2008). Peter Henry Karmel. Retrieved 4 January 2009.
- Downie, Graham (2 January 2009). "'Gentleman scholar' Karmel dies". Canberra Times.
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