Skip to content

University to award eight Honorary Degrees

Posted on 16 January 2018

Leading figures from the world of journalism, politics, business and performing arts are to receive honorary degrees from the University of York this month.


A graduation ceremony at the University of York.

The University of York confers the honorary degree of Doctor of the University honoris causa on individuals who have made outstanding contributions to society.

Professor Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor at the University of York, said: "This year’s honorary graduates are world leaders in their field and represent the University’s vision, values and commitment to excellence. Their achievements are inspirational and we congratulate them in their dedication towards finding solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems. "

The recipients of 2018 honorary degrees, which will be awarded as part of the University's winter graduation ceremonies on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 January, are:

  • Professor Dr Horst Koehler, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany.
  • Pianist, poet and author Alfred Brendel.
  • Vasily Petrenko, chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • Sacha Romanovitch, the first woman to lead a major City accountancy firm.
  • Rob Wilmot, one of the three founding executives of Freeserve, once the UK’s largest Internet Service Provider.
  • Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, engineer, educator and government advisor
  • Dame Vivian Hunt, Managing Partner for McKinsey & Company’s United Kingdom and Ireland offices who has been identified as one of the 30 most influential people in the City of London by the Financial Times.
  • Award-winning journalist, Orla Guerin currently based in Cairo for BBC News.

Professor Dr Horst Koehler

Former President of the Federal Republic of Germany

Horst Koehler served as 9th President of the Federal Republic of Germany between 2004 and 2010. During his term of office, he was a staunch campaigner for a global transformation towards sustainability and a better partnership with Africa.

President Koehler holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Tübingen, where he has served as an honorary professor since 2003. In 1990, he was appointed state secretary in the Ministry of Finance, negotiating the German-German monetary union, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany and the Maastricht Treaty on European Monetary Union.‌

In 1993, he left the Federal Government to become President of the German Savings Banks Association. In 1998, he returned to the public sector as President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Two years later, he was appointed Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

President Koehler continues to serve in a number of national and international honorary positions. In 2017, UN Secretary-General Guterres appointed him as his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.

Alfred Brendel


Credit: Jean-Baptiste Millot

Alfred Brendel is regarded as one of the greatest pianists. Known particularly for his performances of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, he's also a poet and author.

He was born in Wiesenberg, Czechoslovakia, and began piano lessons at the age of six. Mainly self-taught, he gave his first public recital at the age of seventeen, and ended his international career sixty years later by appearing with the Vienna Philharmonic, which had had awarded him honorary membership, while the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra had bestowed on him the Hans von Bülow Medal.

As a writer of essays and poetry, his books have appeared in many languages including English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.‌

Vasily Petrenko


Credit: Mark McNulty

Vasily Petrenko is one of the most highly-regarded conductors in the world. He is chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra having taken up the baton in 2006.  Their award-winning musical partnership in concerts, broadcasts and recordings has attracted world-wide critical acclaim and helped build new audiences for classical music, including many young people.

Vasily is deeply committed to providing opportunities for people to enjoy and participate in music from the earliest age. He is actively involved in initiatives including Liverpool Philharmonic’s 'In Harmony Liverpool' and Musician in Residence programme with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust which achieve positive change within and beyond music, contributing to improving musical skills, confidence, health, education and aspirations for participants and audiences.

As chief conductor of the European Union Youth Orchestra and as a former principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain he supports and mentors young musicians, conductors and composers. His passion for music takes him around the globe as a guest conductor with many more of the world’s great orchestras.

Sacha Romanovitch

Sacha Romanovitch is the UK Chief Executive Officer of Grant Thornton and the first woman to lead a major City accountancy firm.

Appointed CEO in 2015, she is deeply interested in purpose-led business and the role of leadership in dynamic organisations to release potential and generate sustainable growth. She led on establishing the firm’s purpose to shape a vibrant economy where all can flourish.‌

After studying for an MA in Chemistry at the University of Oxford, she joined a small accountancy business in Windsor before relocating to London when the firm merged with Grant Thornton in 1994. She was made a Partner in 2001 and in 2008 joined the firm’s National Leadership Board with specific responsibility for People and Culture, overseeing the development of more than 4,500 employees.

Sacha is also on the Board of London and Partners and co-chairs the UK Government’s Inclusive Economy Partnership. Until recently Sacha chaired the Patron Group for Access Accountancy, the profession-wide initiative to increase diversity. In 2009, she was awarded the Women in the City Woman of Achievement Award and named Jaguar Woman of the Year.

Rob Wilmot

Rob Wilmot was one of the three founding executives of Freeserve.

Launched by the retailer Dixon in 1998, Freeserve became the UK’s largest internet service provider in just three months, with Rob becoming one of the youngest-ever executive officers of a FTSE 100 company when Freeserve floated after only nine months.‌

He left Freeserve shortly after it was sold to France Telecom for £1.6 billion in 2001. He has since founded and invested in a number of businesses, most recently including Crowdicity, a cloud-based open innovation platform for ideas generation and knowledge transfer, and ArtLibrary, a revolutionary tool for artists to record, manage and share their works. He is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at the University, where he is helping with the commercialisation of research, including AI and machine learning and is a Non-Executive Director of the Crown Commercial Service, an executive agency sponsored by the Cabinet Office. 

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2013 for his work in education.

Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya

Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya is an engineer, educator and government advisor.

He began his career as graduate apprentice at Lucas, subsequently gaining an MSc and PhD in Engineering Production at the University of Birmingham.

In 1980, he became Professor of Manufacturing Systems at the University of Warwick; founding Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) to help business innovate and university researchers change lives. Today, WMG is one of the world’s top applied research centres, combining academic excellence and global business results.‌

Lord Bhattacharyya has brokered partnerships, including Jaguar Land Rover’s acquisition by Tata, advised industry and governments internationally and sat on the UK Council for Science and Technology. He is a Fellow of The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

He was awarded the Padma Bhusan by the President of India and the Chinese Government Friendship Award by Vice-Premier Ma Kai.

He was appointed a CBE in 1997, knighted in 2003 for services to education and industry, and made a life peer in 2004.

Dame Vivian Hunt

Dame Vivian Hunt is the Managing Partner for McKinsey & Company’s United Kingdom and Ireland offices.

Vivian previously led the firm’s Pharmaceutical & Medical Products practice in EMEA, and continues to advise leading British firms in the private, public and third sectors. She serves on the firm’s global Board of Directors and Values Committee.‌

In addition to her client responsibilities, Vivian is a leader within the firm on leadership and diversity. She was previously named ‘the most influential black woman in Britain’ by the Powerlist Foundation and The Financial Times identified her as one of the ‘European Women to Watch’ and more recently as the 30 most influential people in the City of London.

Vivian is on the board of several important business groups in the UK, including BritishAmerican Business, the CBI London Council, and the Mayor of London’s Business Advisory Board. She sits on the Advisory Council of the Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre, as well as Teach First’s Business Leaders Council. Vivian also chairs HRH Prince of Wales' Business in the Community's ‘Seeing is Believing’ programme.

Orla Guerin

Orla Guerin

Orla Guerin is an award-winning journalist, currently based in Cairo for BBC News.

Beginning her career in newspapers, she joined RTÉ News in 1987. In 1990 she became the broadcaster’s youngest foreign correspondent, covering Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Orla joined the BBC in 1995 and went on to become Southern Europe Correspondent, returning to the Balkans to report on the crisis in Kosovo. A short period in Moscow followed before a five-year stint as the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, based in Jerusalem. In 2006 she became Africa Correspondent.  She moved on to Pakistan in 2009, and returned to the Middle East in 2013.

Orla has been awarded the News and Factual Award by Women in Film and Television UK, the Broadcaster of the Year Award from the London Press Club, the David Bloom Award (USA) and an Honorary MBE in 2005. She has been nominated for a BAFTA award, and has several Emmy nominations.

Media enquiries

Shelley Hughes
Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323918