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Educated at Birkbeck College, University of London, Graham Hills graduated BSc in 1946 and PhD in 1950. After a period as Lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Imperial College, London from 1949 to 1962, he was appointed Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Southampton from 1962 to 1980. Hills was then appointed as the second Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, where he served from 1980 to 1991. He was knighted in 1988.
Hills received many honorary degrees, fellowships and marks of esteem from institutions throughout the world. He served as advisor to many public bodies in the United Kingdom, and was National Governor for Scotland of the British Broadcasting Corporation from 1989 to 1994. He also advised on the establishment of the University of the Highlands and Islands, a visionary project which brought access to higher education to remote areas of Scotland, based on distributed campuses throughout the region.