Frances Cairncross

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Dame Frances Anne Cairncross, DBE, FRSE, FAcSS (born 30 August 1944 in Otley, England) is a British economist, journalist and academic. She is a senior fellow at the School of Public Policy, UCLA.[1] She formerly chaired the executive committee of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. From 2004 to 2014, she was the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford. From 2015, Cairncross has been chair of the Court of Heriot-Watt University.[2]

Education and personal life[edit]

Cairncross was born on 30 August 1944 to Mary Frances (née Glynn) and the economist, Sir Alexander Kirkland Cairncross. She attended Laurel Bank School in Glasgow and studied for an MA in history at St Anne's College, Oxford, graduating in 1965. She went on to study for an MA in economics at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.[2] She holds honorary degrees from Trinity College Dublin, City University, and the universities of Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Loughborough[3] and Kingston. She became a Fellow of St Anne's College in 1993.[2]

Cairncross married the journalist Hamish McRae in 1971; the couple have two daughters. Her uncle, John Cairncross was an intelligence officer, spy, double agent and a translator of literature.[2][4] Her brother is the epidemiologist Sandy Cairncross.


Cairncross worked at The Times (1967–69), The Banker (1969) and The Observer (1970–73). From 1973 to 1984, Cairncross was on the staff of The Guardian newspaper serving as its economics correspondent from 1973 to 1981 and as women's page editor from 1981 to 1984. She joined the staff of The Economist in 1984 working on coverage of the environment, media and public policy. From 1999 to 2004, she was management editor.[2]

She chaired the Economic and Social Research Council between 2001 and 2007 and was president of the British Science Association (2005–06).[2]

Her book, The Company of the Future (ISBN 1861974051), was published in 2002 by Harvard Business School Press.[5] In March 2003, she won the Institute of Internal Auditors' annual award for business and management journalism. Cairncross is also the author of The Death of Distance (ISBN 0875848060), a study of the economic and social effects of the global communications revolution, first published in 1997 and re-published in a new edition in 2001.[citation needed]

Cairncross was Rector of Exeter College, Oxford from October 2004 to October 2014.[6]

Cairncross was a non-executive director of Stramongate Ltd from 2005 to 2011[2] and a presenter of BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme. In 2004–05, Cairncross held the honorary post of High Sheriff of Greater London.[7]

From 2015 to 2020, Cairncross was chair of the Court of Heriot-Watt University.[2]


In January 1988, Frances Cairncross and Mary Ellen Synon wrote a news article for The Economist that depicted the Republic of Ireland as bureaucratic and impoverished.[8][9] The article caused anger within the Fianna Fáil government of the time. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs also criticised the piece, stating that the Economist article "did serious damage to the image of Ireland overseas".[8]

Awards and honours[edit]

Cairncross has received several awards and honorary degrees from a multiple universities.[2]


  1. ^ Senior Fellow UCLA School of Public Policy Archived 17 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 13 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Who's who (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2017.
  3. ^ "Degree Speeches - Frances Cairncross". Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  4. ^ Roy Greenslade "Big names among Independent leavers", (blog), 19 July 2013
  5. ^ "Excerpt from the Book". Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  6. ^ "Exeter College Announces Selection of New Rector". Exeter College. Archived from the original on 18 June 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  7. ^ Andrew Purvis (23 June 2007). "The Guardian". London, UK: The Guardian. Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  8. ^ a b Sam Smyth, "Mary, Ellen, Quite Contrary". Sunday Independent, 13 March 1990.
  9. ^ "Paying Tax" The Irish Times, Monday 25 September 1989 (p.9)
  10. ^ "Eighty-four leading social scientists conferred as Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences". Academy of Social Sciences. 19 October 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  11. ^ "Award-winning journalists, prehistorians and world-leading economists honoured with prestigious British Academy prizes and medals". British Academy. 20 August 2018. Retrieved 5 September 2018.

Positions held[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Rector of Exeter College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by
High Sheriff of Greater London
Succeeded by