Honorary Graduates

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Every year, we award honorary degrees to distinguished individuals who have made an outstanding contribution in their chosen field. Read more about their lives and achievements below.


Dr Abdulla Al-Harrasi

Dr. Abdulla Al-Harrasi was born in 1971 in the rural village Jamma in Rustaq, in the Sultanate of Oman. He finished his BA studies in English Language and Literature at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman in 1992, and his MA in Language Studies and Translation from the same university in 1995. 1n 2001, he gained his Ph.D. from Aston University in Translation Studies. The title of his dissertation was "Metaphor in (Arabic-into-English) Translation with Specific Reference to Metaphorical Concepts and Expressions in Political Discourse".

He worked at Sultan Qaboos University as a demonstrator (1992-1995), Assistant Lecturer (1995-2001) and Assistant Professor (2001-2011). He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Omani Encyclopedia which was published in 2013 in 11 volumes. In October 2011, he was appointed by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman, as Chairman of the Public Authority for Radio, in the rank of a Minister. He also chairs the Omani Heritage Research Program, a national research umbrella for research grants and projects on aspects of Omani material and nonmaterial heritage under the supervision of Oman's Research Council.

Dr. Al-Harrasi has published several research papers and books in the areas of metaphor and translation. His book Dirasat fi Al-Isti’arah Al-Mafhoumiyyah (Studies on Conceptual Metaphor) which was published in Arabic in 2002 is among the first books on conceptual metaphor in Arabic. He also published several translations from English to Arabic. Among them are Donald Hawly's Oman and Its Modern Renaissance (1998, with others), Paulo Costa's Historic Mosques and Shrines in Oman (2006), and Neil Richardson and Marcia Dorr's The Craft Heritage of Oman (2010, with others). In addition, he published several translations of English poems, short stories and travel writings by American travelers who visited Oman in the 19th century. He also published English translations of Arabic poems and short stories in several literary magazines and books.

Lenny Henry - Hon Graduate

Lenny Henry has been a comedian since the age of 16.  He has risen from being a cult star on children's television to becoming one of Britain's best-known comedians, as well as an actor and writer.

Lenny has won many awards including the Monaco Red Cross and The Golden Nymph Award at The Monte Carlo Television Festival, the Radio & Television Industry Club Award for BBC Personality of the Year, The Golden Rose at the Montreux Television Festival and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Comedy Awards.

Lenny first found fame as a comedy impressionist on 70’s TV talent show, New Faces and is best known for his appearances on TISWAS, Three of a Kind, The Lenny Henry Show, Hope & Glory, Lenny Henry in Pieces and Chef!

He has completed many sell-out live stand-up tours in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.   

On radio, Lenny worked for three years as a DJ on BBC Radio 1. He has also worked extensively for Radio 4, starring in the comedy Rudy’s Rare Records and presenting the series Lenny and Will. 

He made his West End acting debut in the role of Othello in the Northern Broadsides production at the Trafalgar Studios. His portrayal won him critical acclaim and the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Newcomer. 

In 2011, he presented a new BBC1 Saturday night show called Magicians, embarked on a UK tour called Cradle To Rave, which then toured Australia and New Zealand, wrote the Radio 4 play Corinne Come Back and Gone and returned to Shakespeare by playing Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors at The Olivier Theatre at The National. 

Returning to the stage in 2013, Lenny starred in the August Wilson play, Fences, on tour and then at the Duchess Theatre in London and in 2014 he appeared in the stage version of Rudy’s Rare Records, at the Birmingham Rep and Hackney Empire. 

Most recently, Lenny appeared in BBC1’s The Syndicate in early 2015 and on stage at The Chichester Festival in Educating Rita. He starred in Danny And The Human Zoo on BBC1 in August 2015, which he wrote and was produced by Red Productions, and a three part series on Sky Arts called Lenny Henry’s Got The Blues, which started on 18 September and was produced by his own company, Douglas Road Productions.

Following on from the TV series, Lenny Henry’s Got The Blues, Lenny and his band released an album of blues music, called New Millennium Blues.

It was announced in June 2015 that Lenny Henry would be awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday honours for services to charity.

Dame Heather Rabbatts DBE - Honorary Grad

Heather Rabbatts (DBE) has a singular biography ranging across law, Government, sport and media. Beginning her career as a Barrister at Law she then moved to become a government advisor, a senior executive in public services and the youngest CEO in the UK. During this time she began an on-screen media career as a social commentator and then moved behind the scenes, serving as a Governor of the BBC followed by an appointment as a senior executive at Channel 4 - commissioning programmes across genres and developing a range of talent development initiatives. 

Heather has worked in private equity and public markets including the restructuring of Millwall Football Club, securing the involvement of an American investment banker and their sporting promotion. She then became Chairman of Shed Media, a publicly-listed media production and distribution company which was subsequently bought by Time Warner.

Heather is currently Managing Director of Cove Pictures (a TV/Film Production company) and is a non-executive board member for Arts Alliance (a major film/digital investment fund).  She has a portfolio of non-executive roles, including Grosvenor Estates GBI, the Royal Opera House and the Board of the Football Association. Until recently completing her term, Heather also served on the Board of Crossrail and the Supervisory Board of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Right Reverend David Urquhart - Hon grad

Bishop David came to Birmingham in 2006 and has an equal focus on the church and the wider world. After 10 years of commercial management with BP and theological study at Oxford, he served as a parish priest in Hull and Coventry and as Bishop of Birkenhead.

He is actively involved with education, social cohesion, and economic justice. He co-ordinated Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Process from 2010–2015 and chaired the University of Birmingham’s Wealth Distribution Commission in 2013. He gave the 2011 Cadbury Lectures at Birmingham University together with RC Archbishop Bernard Longley, and is a Director of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Birmingham University in July 2009 and was made an Honorary Doctor of Birmingham City University in 2014. He is delighted to be receiving an honorary degree from Aston University today.

Bishop David also has a significant interest in global politics and international relations. Chair of the Church Mission Society from 1993 to 2008, he maintains close links with DR Congo, Uganda and Malawi.  He is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Envoy to China, Chair of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, a Church Commissioner, and Prelate to the Order of St Michael and St George. He has been a member of the Banking Standards Board since 2015 and is a governor at Rugby School. As a member of the House of Lords, where he is Convenor of the Lords Spiritual, he comments regularly on finance, business and the constitution while taking every opportunity he can to promote developments in Birmingham and the surrounding region. 

For recreation he walks the Scottish hills, reads history, and rides a motorbike. He is also a member of the British Deer Society and plays Rugby Fives.

Dr Nick Venning - Hon Graduate

Nick Venning is a prominent Birmingham business personality; in a period spanning forty years, he has enjoyed a successful career in manufacturing industry, management consulting and most recently as Marketing Director Global Industries at PricewaterhouseCoopers.  He is widely recognised as one of the city’s business leaders and frequently features in listings of those most influential in the future of the West Midlands.

Nick is well known as a champion of the voluntary sector in Birmingham focusing on young people, education and employability issues; he has made a unique contribution to the engagement between Birmingham’s professional and financial services business community and many Third Sector organisations throughout the city.  In 2006, with The Birmingham Post, Nick co-founded Thrive, an organisation dedicated to changing business attitudes and community/charitable engagement; Thrive partners with Aston University in holding the annual Birmingham CSR Summit.  Nick currently chairs St Basils Fundraising & External Relations Committee, works with educational charities The Ahead Partnership, Access Project and City Year UK and has been an active supporter of The Prince’s Trust for many years.  He is also Deputy Chairman of Birmingham Civic Society, a Board member of ART (Aston Reinvestment Trust) Business Loans and a Governor of Bromsgrove School.  

Originally a graduate in Chemistry, Nick also holds MBA and PhD degrees from Aston University; his PhD was published in 1981.  He was elected a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing in 1997.  Nick sits on the University’s 50th Anniversary Midlands Development Board.

Nick is married to physiologist Dr Sarah Venning; they have two adult daughters, one of whom is also an Aston graduate.

Sue Husband - Hon Grad

Sue Husband is the Director of the National Apprenticeship Service at the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), an executive agency of the Department of Education (DfE).

Sue is responsible for two of the customer facing services of the ESFA; the National Apprenticeship Service and the National Careers Service.  The National Apprenticeship Service supports the delivery of apprenticeships and traineeships in England, supporting employers and individuals to realise the benefits of apprenticeships.  The National Careers Service provides impartial careers information and advice and guidance to adults and young people to support their decision-making about learning and work.

 Apprenticeships and skills have long been a real passion of Sue’s, which started with her love of learning at school and was cemented in her early years of work. She is currently studying a Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship with the Open University.

Nigel Howe - Hon grad

Nigel Howe was born in Wolverhampton and although he was from a football family, (his father, Dick played for various clubs and his uncle was former Arsenal and England coach, Don Howe) he initially chose a different career path, graduating from Aston University with a degree in Building Technology and Management and entering the property world in project management.  

He spent the first years of his working life in property development, including positions with major development companies such as Beazer Group, Highcross, Wain Group and Portman Properties, part of Portman Building Society.

In 1995, he joined Reading Football Club to oversee the planning and construction of Madejski Stadium and the following year became the club’s Chief Executive, a position he still holds.  He advised Sir John Madejski from 2000 to 2010 on all of his investments worldwide, from printing to traffic management, bottling to property and hotels.

Nigel is also a Director of Thai PropCo and of Get Berkshire Active.

John Rawlinson - Hon Grad

John Rawlinson came from a small town, Todmorden, in West Yorkshire, where he attended the local grammar school. The school, having two Nobel Laureates to its name, had a good pedigree in education.

Following a degree in Biology and Institute of Biology qualifications (Microbiology) John went on to hold laboratory positions in the National Blood Service and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children/Institute of Child Health.

A move into the commercial world highlighted a gap in the market for the supply of research reagents to academia and Insight Biotechnology was launched. Company growth financed John to take a novel product for the reduction of Healthcare Associated Infection through licensing with the UK regulatory authority, MHRA. This led to the formation of Insight Health.

The success of these products in the marketplace prompted the collaboration with Aston University in delving further into the reduction of potential sources of infection within the healthcare setting.

Ir Joseph Choi Kin-hung - Hon Grad

Ir Joseph CHOI is an Executive Director and CEO of Hsin Chong Group Holdings, one of Hong Kong's oldest names in construction, property and related services. Under his leadership, the Group has registered unprecedented growth. 

Ir Choi graduated from Aston University in 1970 with a BSc in Civil Engineering. In his career of more than 45 years, Ir Choi has held senior management positions at world-leading construction, property development and railway companies. He is a fellow and the 2016-2017 President of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a chartered engineer and a registered professional engineer of Hong Kong. Ir Choi is also a member of the Departmental Advisory Committee for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the HK Polytechnic University, a fellow and council member of the HK Institution of Highways and Transportation, as well as a member of the Infrastructure Development Advisory Committee of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

A passionate engineer, Ir Choi has devoted himself to advancing the standards and interests of the profession while nurturing young engineers. Most recently, he has spearheaded efforts to promote global opportunities for engineers under China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. in Oman (2006), and Neil Richardson and Marcia Dorr's The Craft Heritage of Oman (2010, with others). In addition, he published several translations of English poems, short stories and travel writings by American travelers who visited Oman in the 19th century. He also published English translations of Arabic poems and short stories in several literary magazines and books.

Prof Joanne Wood - Hon grad

Joanne Wood is a Professor in the School of Optometry and Vision Science and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. She completed undergraduate studies in Optometry and a PhD in visual field investigation at Aston University, followed by a post-doctoral position at Oxford University, before joining QUT where she has been since 1989. 

The main focus of Joanne’s research has been the impact of visual impairment and ageing on functional outcomes, including understanding how visual impairment affects driving performance, the factors affecting night-time pedestrian and bicyclist visibility, and identifying risk factors for unsafe older drivers. This research has made a significant contribution through a large body of publications in refereed journals, conference presentations, contribution to health practice and policy (including advice to licensing bodies and health professionals regarding driver licensing standards) and translation of research into standards.

Reginald Garratt - Hon Grad

Reginald Garratt studied mechanical engineering and graduated from Aston in 1951.

Going on to study electronic engineering, Reg joined a UK guided missile team, becoming a Team Leader of engineers on the British Fireflash, an airborne guided weapon.

In 1958 he joined Honeywell Minneapolis, as a Sales Engineer, based in Erdington. Reg was promoted to UK Sales Manager and in 1969 appointed Managing Director of Honeywell’s African operations.

Four years later he was transferred to Honeywell USA as Manager of Marketing where he introduced Market Research, which would later prove to be invaluable in audiology.

In 1977 Reg joined Knowles Electronics Inc. in Chicago, the world’s leading manufacturer of hearing aid sub-miniature microphones and speakers, as Vice President of Sales and Marketing. At that time Knowles held 25% share of the world’s hearing aid transducer sales and provided R&D to the hearing aid market.

Reg became President of Knowles in 1988, then CEO and Chairman. One accomplishment during this period was the development of the world’s first silicon microphone, used today in mobile phones. Knowles held 85% share of the worldwide transducer market and in 1999 Reg divested the company which resulted in a $530m sale. Aged 73, Reg retired in 2003.

After retirement Reg invested and became a board member of Tympany Inc. based in Texas, to develop the world’s first FDA approved fully-automated hearing test equipment. He is now continuing his entrepreneurial work on an FDA approved automated Pure Tone Audiometer which will accomplish a pure tone audiogram for General Physicians in just five minutes. 

Over his career, Reg was President of the Better Hearing Institute, Washington DC and Director of “Hear Now” an audiology charity serving the hearing impaired.

Reg is an American citizen, married to Gail Garratt, with three sons and eight grandchildren. 

Nasir Awan MBE DL - Hon Grad

Nasir Awan is the Chief Executive Officer at Awan Marketing Plc, Awan Marketing International Ltd and Awan Property Investments Ltd.

He is the son of a Pakistan Air Force Officer who was decorated in the second world war. Born in North West Frontier of Pakistan, Nasir came to England in 1967, aged 9, to join his family in Aston. In 1978 he had to leave school to support the family business, due to his father’s ill health. 

In 1980 Nasir set up a wholesale business for consumer electronics and became one of the UK’s major distributors for brands like Sony, Panasonic and Hitachi. He was also the largest independent distributor in the 80’s in the UK for TDK audio and video tapes.

When the brands started supplying direct to the retailers, Nasir started importing housewares and everyday use products from China, where he established a staffed office. The company is now run by the third generation of the family, supplying UK retailers, as well as exporting to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, with trading links, in Turkey, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Italy and Spain.        

Nasir is also a Director of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group and Chairman of the Asian Chamber of Commerce Institute of Asian Businesses. He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to business and International Trade in the 2016 New Year’s Honours, and appointed Deputy Lieutenant to, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands earlier this month.

Waheed Nazir - Hon grad

As Corporate Director for Economy at Birmingham City Council, Waheed has worked for the local authority in various roles including Director of Planning & Regeneration, Director of Regeneration, Assistant Director for Development Planning, as well as CEO of SRB6.

Waheed is responsible for providing strategic leadership and direction across a wide portfolio, including the city council property portfolio, planning, regeneration, housing development, transportation and connectivity, highways and infrastructure, skills and employment, and business development and inward investment.

Waheed has over 20 years’ experience in developing and implementing successful innovations in the field of growth, development and regeneration and exploiting new opportunities to secure funding from private and public resources.

Waheed is also a Visiting Professor of Planning and Regeneration at Birmingham City University, a role which allows him to share his knowledge and experience of the Built Environment agenda with future professionals in the field.

Olayemi Cardoso - Hon grad

Yemi Cardoso is the Chairman of Citibank Nigeria. An accomplished banker, Yemi started his banking career with Citi. He was hired in London, trained in Athens and rose to the position of Vice-President in Nigeria. He left to co-found Citizens International Bank where he was an Executive Director. Yemi entered public service in 1999 when he was appointed cabinet member and Commissioner for Budget and Planning for Lagos State. He wrote the economic blue print that catalysed economic development in the world’s sixth largest mega city and returned to the private sector in 2005.

Yemi has extensive board experience with several leading institutions, including Chevron Oil. He was Chairman of the World Bank’s LMDG project and Chairman of the Gates Foundation/DFID company, EFInA.

Yemi advises Governments, major international development organisations and private sector corporations. He is a member of the Belgian-based Cities Alliance Think Tank and is advisor to MIT’s Urban Metabolism Group.

He graduated from Aston University with a BSc in Managerial and Administrative Studies, holds a Masters in Public Administration and Management from Harvard University and was a Mason Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

He is married with five children.

Beverly Lindsay - Hon grad

Beverly was born in St Thomas, Jamaica and came to Birmingham as a teenager to complete her secondary education. She started her career in nursing and midwifery and, after leaving nursing, worked as a Senior Community Worker in Handsworth, Birmingham and in the financial services before establishing Diamond Travel in 1987.

Throughout the years, Beverly founded and co-founded many initiatives, organisations and events that were instrumental to providing vital services and support to local communities. Beverly is chairperson of the Association of Jamaican Nationals (Birmingham) UK that annually awards “unsung heroes” and “rising young stars” within the local community. She is Deputy Chair Governor and Chair of the Trust at Handsworth Wood Girls Academy; Member of the University of Birmingham’s Community Advisory Board; Member of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and served as committee member of the Lord Mayor of Birmingham Charity Appeal between 1997 and 2014.

In 1997, Beverly became a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, and in 2009 was named a “Paul Harris Fellow”, the highest award from the Rotary Foundation, in recognition of the substantial contribution to the organisation. She served as the President during 2012/2013.

Beverly is a mentor, champion and supporter of the African Caribbean community throughout the UK and in 2008 was awarded a National Honour by the Jamaican Government – Order of Distinction. In 2011 Beverly was honoured by Her Majesty The Queen with the Order of British Empire and in 2013 was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands.

Jurek Piasecki - Hon grad

Entrepreneur Jurek Piasecki graduated from Aston University in 1967 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After graduating, he started working for British vehicle manufacturer Leyland Motor Corporation. In 1973 he received a sponsorship to Manchester Business School and completed an MBA there. Equipped with a keen business mind, he became Finance Director of Jackson the Tailor, a retail company with five factories and nearly 200 shops, a division of the (then) Burton Group.

In the 1980s he helped to build up jewellery chain the Goldsmiths Group, increasing the turnover from £3m to £350m. In 2008 he formed Lock End Investments, a small venture capital company. This is now managed by his son, who is also a graduate of Aston University. Today he heads up luxury jewellery brand, Theo Fennell, which he bought in 2013.

Sharon Lea - Hon grad

Sharon Lea has enjoyed a notable career in Local Government and is now supporting public and private sector businesses to help them prosper. She specialises in leading service transformation to improve performance and generate million pound efficiencies. Previously Sharon was Strategic Director of Place at Birmingham and has held a diverse range of directorships over the past 20 years with responsibility for 35 services including Homes and Neighbourhoods; Highways; Parks & Resilience; Leisure, Sport and Culture, Libraries; Museums; Events, and Adult Education. Sharon has led 4,000 staff, held £750 million budgets and served one million citizens.

Sharon a passionate supporter of art, culture and sport for all and led on the strategic planning and implementation of high profile major events to enhance the city’s reputation. This included Birmingham’s Half Marathon, the Frankfurt Christmas Market, and Arts Fest – the UK’s largest free arts festival. Sharon worked with Lord Patten to host Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Birmingham which was viewed by a global audience.