Education & Family

Sir Lenny Henry: Education is a right for all

Sir Lenny Henry Image copyright Birmingham City University

Education is not an "accident of birth" and is a right for everyone, comedian Sir Lenny Henry has said as he became a university chancellor.

In his first speech as Birmingham City University's new chancellor, Sir Lenny talked about how he grew up believing education was "not intended for the likes of me".

He did not start studying for qualifications until he was an adult.

Sir Lenny, 58, was awarded his first degree at the age of 46.

He first attempted to gain qualifications while working with comedy duo Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball in the early 1980s.

Sir Lenny, who received a knighthood last year, told 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.

More than 45% of its students come from low-income households and 48% are 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 said.

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