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Uni chancellor Sir Lenny: Education a right and not an accident of birth

Published 22/11/2016

Sir Lenny Henry said he got his first degree at the age of 46
Sir Lenny Henry said he got his first degree at the age of 46

Education is a right for everyone and not an "accident of birth", Sir Lenny Henry will say as he becomes a university chancellor.

In his first speech as Birmingham City University's new chancellor, the comedian, 58, is expected to talk about how he grew up believing that education was "not intended for the likes of me", and did not begin studying for qualifications until he was an adult.

He first attempted to gain qualifications while working with comedy duo Cannon and Ball in the early 1980s and gained his first degree at the age of 46.

Sir Lenny, who received a knighthood last year, will tell an audience at Birmingham Town Hall on Tuesday: "I grew up with the belief that education was not intended for the likes of me.

"It wasn't until I was doing a summer season with Cannon and Ball in 1981 that I was brave enough to embark on my GCSEs. It was tough going, but I got through it.

"I was 46 before I got my first degree with the Open University and, while a comparative latecomer to higher education - whose career hardly relied on securing a BA or an MA after my name - that experience changed my life. It opened my mind to more possibilities, new thinking and different perspectives.

"Being chancellor of Birmingham City University is a chance for me to give back, to contribute something to the generation of young people leaving school now and to those people coming back in to education - mature students - who, like me, missed out on the chance when they were younger."

Sir Lenny, who was born in Dudley, will praise the university for having one of the most diverse student bodies in the UK, with more than 45% of students coming from low-income households and 48% from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

"This institution understands that education is a right, not an accident of birth, and if you're smart enough, creative enough and hardworking enough, Birmingham City University can provide you with life-changing opportunities, whatever your background," he will say.

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