Sir David held a chair in Modern History at the University of Wales, Swansea, where he was also a Head of Department, Dean, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. While at Swansea he co-founded the National Centre for Public Policy.
He was a Fellow and Senior Tutor of Pembroke College (1988–1995) and is now an Honorary Fellow of both St Peter’s College, Oxford, from where he graduated in 1980; Keble College, Oxford, where he was a Research Fellow from 1983 to 1987; and from the University of Swansea.
He is currently Chair of Universitas 21 and he was Chair of Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from 2015-2020. He is a Board Member and Non-Executive Director of INTO University Partnerships, a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and has served as an International Member of the Hong Kong University Grants Committee since 2011.
Sir David has served on numerous national bodies and committees, including as a member of the Research Support Libraries Group 2002-2003, the Roberts Review of the Research Assessment Exercise, the Tomlinson Group on 14-19 Education 2003-2004, the Councils of the John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory, and the Board of the Quality Assurance Agency. He has chaired the Russell Group, the 1994 Group of Universities, UCAS, UUK’s Longer Term Strategy Group, the Association of the Universities of the East of England, and Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA). He also chaired the Westminster Education Commission in 2009 and was a member of the Government's Independent Review Panel looking at Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (the Browne review). More recently, he was a member of the Advisory Group, led by Sir Paul Nurse, reviewing UK Research Councils.
In January 2012, he was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for the county of West Midlands, and in June 2014, he was awarded a Knighthood for services to Higher Education.
Since 1991 Sir David has been a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, serving as its Literary Director 1994-2000 and as chair of its Studies in History Board 2000-2004. He has published extensively on the history of the British state, the history of ideas, and electoral politics.
He is married with three children and six grandchildren. He enjoys music, politics, walking, reading, and sport.