Skip to content

University awards nine honorary degrees

Posted on 8 July 2011

A campaigner for women's rights, a neuroscientist and broadcaster, an archaeologist, a playwright and a national newspaper editor are to receive honorary degrees from the University of York next week.

Maryam Bibi, Professor Colin Blakemore, Professor Dominic Powlesland, Trevor Griffiths and John Witherow are among nine people who will be awarded honorary doctorates at the University’s graduation ceremonies on 13, 14 and 15 July.  

The others are Professor Lord Parekh of Kingston Upon Hull, a social scientist and political philosopher, journalist, economist and author Frances Cairncross, Professor Karl Friston, an internationally recognised authority on brain imaging, and Professor Gregory Margulis, a world authority in a number of areas of mathematics.

The University confers honorary degrees on individuals who have made a significant contribution to society. Recipients often have existing links with the University and are chosen from nominations made by its members.

Maryam Bibi

Born in 1950 to an illiterate mother in Pakistan’s tribal areas, by her mid 20s Maryam Bibi was married with four children. Experiencing the violence and female subjugation common in that war-torn, poverty-stricken region, she determined to make a difference for others. In 1993, she established the NGO Khwendo Kor in one office with four staff. Today, its dangerous, skilful and distinctive work for peace, human rights and the education, health and economic status of women and children has brought national and international respect.

In 2008 Maryam Bibi completed an MPhil at York on female education in the Tribal Areas, the first account by an indigenous woman of work in that region. She maintains strong links with the city through UK Friends of Khwendo Kor whose base it is.

As the inspirational CEO of Khwendo Kor, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the ‘1000 Women for Peace’, and has received numerous international and Pakistan awards.    

Professor Colin Blakemore, FRS

Professor Colin Blakemore is a pioneering neuroscientist, whose research has focused on vision, the early development of the brain and conditions such as development visual impairment and Huntington’s disease. He is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, Honorary Professor at Warwick and Professor Emeritus at Duke University- National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School.

A former Chief Executive of the British Medical Research Council, he has been involved in the public communication of science for more than 30 years and is a frequent broadcaster on radio and television. He has published a number of books about science for a general readership, and writes for the national and international media. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1944, he studied Medical Sciences at the University of Cambridge and completed a PhD in Physiological Optics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1968. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences and many overseas Academies.

Frances Cairncross CBE

Frances Cairncross is a distinguished journalist, author and economist. She was formerly a senior editor for The Economist, working on the magazine for 20 years. She was on the staff of the Guardian from 1973 to 1984, and prior to that spent periods on the financial staff of The Times, The Banker and the Observer. She chaired the Economic and Social Research Council for six years until 2007 and was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (2005/06). She has been a regular presenter of the BBC's Analysis programme.

Born in Otley, West Yorkshire in 1944, she read Modern History at the University of Oxford, and holds a Masters in Economics from Brown University, Rhode Island. She is currently the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Senior Fellow at the School of Public Policy, UCLA and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Professor Karl Friston, FRS

Professor Karl Friston is an internationally recognised authority on brain imaging and the Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. Born in York in 1959, he has maintained links with the city and taken a keen interest in the development of the York Neuroimaging Centre.

Professor Friston studied at Kings College Medical School, University of London and the University of Cambridge and was awarded the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping in 1996. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1999 in recognition of his contributions to the bio-medical sciences and has served as President of the International Organisation of Human Brain Mapping. In 2003 Professor Friston received the Minerva Golden Brain award and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006. He is a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow, Professor of Neurology at University College London, and an Honorary Consultant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.  

Trevor Griffiths

Trevor Griffiths is a leading British playwright for theatre, film and television. His stage play, Comedians, has been in production around the world since its premiere in 1975 and his latest play, A New World: a life of Thomas Paine, premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2009. He co-authored the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds, for which he received the WGA Best Screenplay Award. His film Fatherland was directed by Ken Loach. His television dramas include Bill Brand, Through the Night, Country, The Last Place on Earth and Food for Ravens, which he wrote and directed, and which won a Royal Television Society Award and a Welsh BAFTA. He also received the BAFTA Writer’s Award in 1982.

Born in Manchester in 1935, he has lived in and worked in Yorkshire for many years. He offered invaluable advice during the planning of the new Department of Theatre, Film and Television, as well as giving a masterclass to students.

Professor Gregory Margulis

Professor Gregory Margulis is a world authority in a number of areas of mathematics. His greatest achievements include the proof of Selberg-Piatetski-Shapiro Conjecture on arithmeticity of lattices in higher rank groups and proof of the 1929 Oppenheim Conjecture on irrational quadratic forms.

His contributions to algebra and number theory have influenced numerous strands of research at York and York researchers maintain regular contact with him. He was born in Moscow in 1946 and studied at Moscow State University. A Professor at Yale University, he received the Fields Medal - regarded as the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize - in 1978 and the Wolf Prize in Mathematics in 2005. He is one of only about ten mathematicians to have received both prizes. In 1991 he was awarded the Medal of the College de France and was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2001 Professor Margulis was elected a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Lord Parekh of Kingston Upon Hull

Lord Bhikhu Parekh was made a peer in 2000. His political interests range across race relations, higher education, ethnic conflicts, global justice, international politics and multiculturalism. Born in Gujarat, India, in 1935, he studied at the University of Bombay and the London School of Economics (LSE). Between 1981 and 1984 he was Vice-Chancellor at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India and has held Professorships at LSE and the Universities of Westminster and Hull.

Lord Parekh was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1988 and of the Academy of the Learned Societies for Social Sciences in 1999. He chaired the Runnymede Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain and became a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003. He was elected Fellow of the European Academy in 2008, and was the President of Academy of Social Sciences between 2003 and 2008. He holds Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour given by the Government of India to overseas Indians. 

Professor Dominic Powlesland

Professor Dominic Powlesland is one of the UK’s leading landscape archaeologists and a pioneer of computing applications in archaeology. As Director of the Landscape Research Centre, he has run an extended programme of survey and excavation in the Vale of Pickering at West Heslerton since 1978. This programme has revolutionised the understanding of prehistoric to early medieval period settlement patterns and is widely regarded as one of the most important landscape archaeology projects in Europe.

Born in Romford, Essex in 1954, Dominic Powlesland now lives in Yedingham and is a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds.  He has long-standing associations with the University of York and was a visiting lecturer from 1980 to 1985. He maintains research collaborations with staff and helps students with research projects. He was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 2007 and in 2009 was elected Honorary Member of the Aerial Archaeology Research Group. 

John Witherow

John Witherow is Editor of The Sunday Times, Britain's biggest-selling quality newspaper. He was born in South Africa and brought up in Britain and Australia. He started in journalism at the age of 19 with the BBC in Namibia. After graduating from the University of York in 1975 in History, he continued his career with Reuters in London and Madrid. He then joined The Times, where he was the paper's correspondent in the Falklands and Iran-Iraq Wars. He co-wrote the book The Winter War with Patrick Bishop about the Falklands.   

He spent six months on the Boston Globe in the US before moving in the mid-1980s to The Sunday Times as defence correspondent.  He later became diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor and Editor in 1994. Since then the paper has had a series of scoops including exposing the cash for questions scandal in the 1990s and cash for honours. The newspaper has won numerous awards under his editorship. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

Notes to editors:

  • Professor Karl Friston will be presented for his honorary degree by Professor Gary Green from the Department of Psychology in Ceremony One on Wednesday, 13 July at 9.30am.
  • Frances Cairncross will be presented for her honorary degree by Professor Peter Spencer from the Department of Economics and Related Studies in Ceremony Two on Wednesday, 13 July at noon.
  • John Witherow will be presented for his honorary degree by Tim Ngwena from the Students’ Union (YUSU) in Ceremony Three on Wednesday, 13 July at 3.30pm.
  • Professor Colin Blakemore will be presented for his honorary degree by Professor Tony Kendrick from the Hull York Medical School in Ceremony Four on Thursday, 14 July at 9.30am.
  • Professor Gregory Margulis will be presented for his honorary degree by Professor Sanju Velani from the Department of Mathematics in Ceremony Five on Thursday, 14 July at noon.
  • Dominic Powlesland will be presented for his honorary degree by Professor Mark Edmonds from the Department of Archaeology in Ceremony Six on Thursday, 14 July at 3.30pm.
  • Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh will be presented for his honorary degree by Professor the Baroness Haleh Afshar from the Department of Politics in Ceremony Seven on Friday, 15 July at 9.30am.
  • Maryam Bibi will be presented for her honorary degree by Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from the Department of Social Policy and Social Work in Ceremony Eight on Friday, 15 July at noon.
  • Trevor Griffiths will be presented for his honorary degree by Professor Andrew Tudor from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television in Ceremony Nine on Friday, 15 July at 3.30pm.
  • To arrange photographs contact the Press Office on 01904 322029.

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

Keep up to date

 Subscribe to news feeds

 Follow us on Twitter