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Newcastle University honours inspiring social campaigners


Four of the world’s most eminent social and political figures received honorary degrees from Newcastle University at a Congregation ceremony today (Tuesday, 4 December).

The Mittal brothers, Shami Chakrabarti and Garry Runciman all became special honorary graduates of Newcastle University today for their outstanding contributions to societies in the UK and across the world.

The Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law commemorates the University’s historic commitment to civic responsibility, and to mark to launch of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal (NISR) the University has chosen to award individuals whose interests represented communities most affected by social, political and economic change.

Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, said: “Honorary degrees are a way for Newcastle University to recognise those figures from industry, academia, education and politics who have made a major contribution to people’s lives and the world we live in.”

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE, Director of NISR, said: “Social Renewal is about tackling the big questions and our role as a civic university is to make a difference to the world around us in both thought and action. We celebrate this idea in honour of people who have made outstanding contributions to society in answering the big questions.”

Satya Bharti Schools
This is the first time in the University’s history that two brothers have had honours conferred upon them. As passionate advocates of the right to a good education Sunil and Rakesh Mittal share the belief that business must give back to the society in which it operates.

Their Satya Bharti School programme provides a quality, free education to over 38,000 underprivileged children in 254 schools in villages across India.

The Bharti Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises and was established 12 years ago. These schools provide free meals, school uniforms, books and stationery to children and young people in primary and higher education, with particular focus on improving the lives of young girls and women.

The schools’ English computer-aided learning systems give pupils access to a new learning environment and their specialised higher-education courses in telecommunications, in association with IIT Delhi, extend up to PhD level.

Professor Brink said: “It is a great pleasure to acknowledge Sunil and Rakesh Mittal in this way. Through their Bharti Foundation they have succeeded in transforming the lives of thousands of the most disadvantaged children in India by making education accessible to them and future generations.”

Rakesh Mittal, Chairman and Group CEO of Bharti Enterprises, who also collected his brother's degree, said: “I am honoured to visit Newcastle and to be welcomed here. The work the University is doing is extremely, extremely important. I think its work in social renewal, and before that in ageing and in sustainability, are the big issues facing the world today.

“In India, we believe education is the most important factor which is why we set up our Bharti Foundation. Our Satya Bharti schools educate 38,000 children – to me that’s 38,000 smiles. We provide their education and give them a midday meal. We believe if you educate India’s children they can become agents for change. We particularly focus on the girl child - 49% of our students are girls.  We believe if you educate a girl, you educate a family.”

Civil Liberties
Shami Chakrabarti is director of the human rights group Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties) and one of the most widely-known public affairs lobbyists around today.

Since becoming Liberty’s Director in 2003, Shami has written, spoken and broadcast on the importance of the post-World War II human rights framework as an essential component of democratic society. More recently, Shami was invited to join the panel of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the British press. 

In 2007, Shami was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Her reputation as a social campaigner has led many to regard her as one of the most inspiring political figures in a generation.

She is Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, a governor of the London School of Economics and the British Film Institute, a visiting Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, and a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple.

Mrs Chakrabarti said: “This is a massive, massive honour and this is special for two reasons. Firstly, because I am so pleased and happy to be in Newcastle, but secondly, because this was Dr Luther King’s English University. To be given the same honour as him, Doctor of Civil Law, in the same place, as a fellow civil rights campaigner, makes it incredibly special to me.”

Social Justice and Sociological Inquiry
Garry Runciman, 3rd Viscount Runciman of Doxford, is an eminent sociologist. He was elected to the British Academy in 1975. His seminal work, Relative Deprivation and Social Justice: a Study of Attitudes to Social Inequality in Twentieth-Century Britain, was published in 1966 and remains influential today.

He chaired the British Government's Royal Commission on Criminal Justice which continued the inquiry into the convictions of the Maguire Seven – wrongly imprisoned for their alleged involvement in the Guildford Bombings in 1974 – and as a result of which a permanent independent Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up to investigate possible miscarriages of justice.

Viscount Runciman said: “I feel very honoured. My family has connections with this part of the world so that adds to the pleasure of this honour for me.”


 Picture caption: Left to right: Rakesh Mittal, Shami Chakrabati and Lord Runciman. Photograph by North News and Pictures.

published on: 4 December 2012