Five remarkable ‘Leading Women’ received the University’s highest honours on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of women being first admitted to higher education in Britain at the University of London.
The honorary degrees were presented by the University’s Chancellor, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, at the University of London’s Foundation Day. This year’s evening ceremony, which took place in Bloomsbury’s Senate House, marked the 182nd anniversary of the creation of the University of London by Royal Charter on 28 November 1836.
In 1868, nine women were admitted to the University of London to enrol for a ‘special examination’ course. This was the first time in Britain that women had gained access to university education and, though it was to be over ten years before they were admitted on equal terms with men to read for the same degree programmes, this modest event was an immensely significant moment for the University, for women and for society as a whole.
The five remarkable individuals, who received honours last night, have all made substantial contributions to public life and the University in very different ways;
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE is a space scientist and science communicator. She studied at Imperial College London, where she obtained her degree in Physics and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She has spent her career making novel, bespoke instrumentation in both the industrial and academic environments. Maggie also works as a TV presenter co-hosting The Sky at Night, the world’s longest running science series. Dr Aderin-Pocock was awarded a Doctor of Science honoris causa.
Professor Sue Black is an award-winning computer scientist, technology evangelist and digital skills expert. She was awarded an OBE for “services to technology” in the 2016 Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. She is a UK government advisor, thought leader, Honorary Professor of Computer Science at UCL, Trustee at Comic Relief, social entrepreneur, writer and public speaker. Sue set up the UK’s first online network for women in tech, BCSWomen, in 1998 and led the campaign to save Bletchley Park from 2008-2011. Professor Black was awarded a Doctor of Science (Engineering) honoris causa.
Dr Tansy Davies’ music has been championed by some of the most renowned philharmonic orchestras in the world. Between Worlds – an operatic response to 9/11 with libretto by Nick Drake was premiered by the English National Opera in 2015 and received a British Composer Award. Other recent works include Re-greening, for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and Forest, premiered by the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen. A second collaboration with Nick Drake – Cave – was unveiled by Mark Padmore, Elaine-Mitchener and London Sinfonietta in 2018. Dr Davies was awarded a Doctor of Music honoris causa.
Gillian Wearing’s performative photographs and films investigate the tensions between public and private, fiction and reality, and the relationship between the artist and the viewer. She was recently commissioned by the Mayor of London to create a statue of Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, which was unveiled in April 2018. In 2017 she opened a major exhibition alongside Claude Cahun at the National Portrait Gallery, London, as well as a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen. Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997 and was awarded an OBE in 2011. Ms Wearing was awarded a Doctor of Literature honoris causa.
Suzanne McCarthy is Chair of Depaul UK, the youth homelessness charity, and of the Joint Audit Panel of the London Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime and the Metropolitan Police. She is a Marshall Aid Commissioner and a member of the Advertising Standards Authority. She was formerly Immigration Services Commissioner, and CEO of both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Mrs McCarthy has been admitted to the Fellowship of the University of London as an individual who truly fulfils the criteria for selection: “a person of significant achievement and distinction, who has made an outstanding contribution to the University’s reputation, mission or objects over a period of time”.
Dr Aderin-Pocock, Professor Black, Dr Davies, Ms Wearing and Mrs McCarthy join a growing list of over 550 individuals who have been honoured by the University of London. Over 400 guests attended this year’s ceremony, including staff and students from the 18 independent member institutions of the University.