Foundation Day celebrations return to Whitworth Hall

Renowned journalist, broadcaster and University of Manchester alumnus, David Aaronovitch, delivered the 2021 Foundation Day lecture as staff, students and dignitaries returned to the University’s grand Whitworth Hall to celebrate Foundation Day.

Celebrated every October, Foundation Day marks the coming together of the Victoria University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in 2004.

This year’s celebrations were particularly special as guests came together for the first time since 2019. Proceedings began with an address from the President and Vice-Chancellor covering the past twelve months and looking to the future, followed by the Foundation Lecture and concluding with honorary doctorates being conferred on five eminent individuals.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, said: “The past year has tested us all in many ways. In true Manchester spirit, our community has responded with passion, professionalism and commitment, helping us to achieve a great deal.

“We look to the future with hope for greater normality in the year ahead, I am confident that we will stay true to our motto, 'knowledge, wisdom and humanity', and continue to learn, adapt and work together to fulfil our purpose.”

As well as delivering this year’s keynote lecture, David Aaronovitch received an honorary doctorate alongside fellow honorary graduates Dorothy Byrne, Professor Dame Sue Hill, Sir Alan Langlands and Professor Helen Pankhurst.

This Foundation Day was the final one of Lemn Sissay’s tenure as Chancellor. Professor Rothwell had a special message of thanks for Lemn and the work he has done throughout his chancellorship. Lemn will be remaining within the University community when he takes up an Honorary Chair in Creative Writing after his term as Chancellor ends.

Professor Rothwell also thanked all University staff for the extraordinary work they have put in both on and off campus throughout the pandemic as well as thanking students, alumni and partners.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell
The past year has tested us all in many ways.  In true Manchester spirit, our community has responded with passion, professionalism and commitment, helping us to achieve a great deal.
President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

This year honorary doctorates were awarded to the following:

David Aaronovitch (Doctor of Letters – LittD)

David Aaronovitch was born in North London and, after being educated in the capital, initially went to university at Oxford but left after two terms. He then joined Manchester in 1974 where he read History and graduated. He served as National Secretary and then President of the National Union of Students, before going into TV journalism with ITV's flagship programme, Weekend World. 

He moved to the BBC to start and edit the politics programme On the Record. After seven years he moved to the Independent and started writing for a living. He has also had stints on the Guardian and the Observer before moving to The Times in 2005. He also writes regularly for the Jewish Chronicle. Since the mid 90s he has been a frequent broadcaster on TV and radio and for the last five years has presented BBC Radio 4's The Briefing Room. He has written three books and tried to write a dozen. He is married to another journalist, Sarah Powell. They have three grown-up daughters and a Kerry Blue terrier and live an adventurous 80 yards from what was then the maternity hospital in which he was born. 

Dorothy Byrne (Doctor of Letters – LittD)

Dorothy Byrne is President of Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University. She was for 17 years Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel Four Television and then Editor at Large, a post specially created for her. Her programmes have won numerous national and international awards.

She is a winner of the Royal Television Society’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, the Grierson Award for Contribution to Documentary and a Scottish BAFTA for Outstanding Contribution to Television as well as a Fellow of the Royal Television Society.

Professor Dame Sue Hill (Doctor of Clinical Science – DClinSc)

Professor Dame Sue Hill DBE FMedSci FRSB FRCP(Hon) FRCPath (Hon) FHCS (Hon) is the Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) for England, and the leading scientific authority for the wider healthcare system. A respiratory scientist by background, she has an international academic and clinical research reputation. As CSO, Sue has been a champion of education and training, leading the Modernising Scientific Careers programme - a UK-wide strategy for the whole of the healthcare science workforce in the NHS and associated bodies. She has led many different national service transformation projects and as CSO has played a major role in NHS Test and Trace, in the introduction and validation of new technologies as part of the response to COVID 19

Sue was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2018 in recognition of her contribution to genomics and to the establishment of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, and in 2020, she was named one of The 80 Most Influential People in English NHS and health policy.

Sir Alan Langlands (Doctor of Sciences – DSc)

Sir Alan Langlands FRSE Hon FMedSci retired in 2020 following a long career in the NHS and Higher Education. This included significant periods as the Chief Executive of the NHS in England and the Higher Education Funding Council for England; and as Vice-Chancellor of the Universities of Dundee and Leeds. With a strong interest in the scientific basis of health services he was the Chair of UK Biobank and The Health Foundation, and an inaugural Director of the Board of the UK Statistics Authority and the Office for the Strategic Coordination of Health Research. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, five Medical Royal Colleges and the Institute of Actuaries. In the arts, he has been a Trustee of the Leeds International Piano Competition and the Royal Northern College of Music.

Professor Helen Pankhurst CBE (Doctor of The University – DUniv)

Professor Helen Pankhurst CBE is a development and international women’s rights activist working as an advisor to CARE International - primarily in Ethiopia and in the UK. She is also an author, a Professor at MMU and the First Chancellor of the University of Suffolk.

The granddaughter of Sylvia, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, leaders of the British suffragette movement, Helen carries on the legacy. This has included involvement in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and in the 2015 film Suffragette; regularly leading CARE International’s #March4Women event ahead of International Women’s Day in London, convening the Centenary Action Group and the Greater Manchester GM4Women2028 coalition. In 2018, she published the book: Deeds Not Words, the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now.

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