Prof Michael Balls, his wife Carolyn and their son Ed, receiving his honorary degree
When Ed Balls received his UEA honorary degree earlier this month, it marked a return visit to the campus for his father, Prof Michael Balls, who was a lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences from 1966 to 1974.
Born and bred in Norfolk, Prof Balls studied Zoology at Oxford and his academic career took him all over the world, including long stays in Switzerland, the USA and Italy. Now officially retired – but still working for about 20 hours a week on various projects – he has returned home to Norwich.
Prof Balls notes the change in the campus over the intervening years. “When I arrived here, UEA was still a very new university and we were based in the Village while our building was being constructed,” he said. “We moved into the teaching wall during the summer of 1967, and the great thing about it was that it brought all the biological sciences together.
“Like me, Ed was born in Norfolk. He used to visit the lab with me, but I have to speak to him about one of his recollections in his auto-biography, where he talks of being badly bitten by a rat ‘at my dad’s laboratory’. I never used rats – or any other mammals - in my experiments!”
In fact, Prof Balls is a committed campaigner against animal experiments, and became a trustee of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) in 1979, then chairman of trustees until 2013. He was also a government adviser on the topic, and a founder-member of the Animal Procedures Committee, which advised the Home Secretary on animal testing. In 1993, he became the first Head of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, located at Ispra, in Italy, and, among other awards, received a CBE in 2002 in recognition of his work.
Prof Balls was also a campaigner on education in Norfolk, contributing to the development of the comprehensive system in the county as chairman of CANE (Campaign for the Advancement of Norfolk Education). “I visited every school in Norfolk and saw that there was a secondary modern school close to every grammar school, which made the changeover easier,” he said.
After he left UEA, Prof Balls moved to the University of Nottingham’s Medical School to focus on the medical side of his research. “Things could have turned out quite differently if Nottingham Forest Football Club hadn’t changed their ticket prices and removed the reduced charges for young people,” he said. “It meant we didn’t go to the City Ground – if we had, Ed might have ended up their chairman instead of Norwich City’s!
“I’m delighted to be back on campus to see Ed receiving his honorary degree. He’s proud to be a Norfolk boy, and it’s wonderful to see his commitment to the county being recognised by UEA in this way.”
Ed Balls with his parents, Prof Michael and Carolyn