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The Corporation

Posted: 20/10/16

Students in awe of principal’s life journey

Students at West Nottinghamshire College have been celebrating Black History Month throughout October.

Dame Asha spoke to students about her life and career

Among the activities to celebrate the achievements of black and Asian British people, principal and chief executive Dame Asha Khemka delivered an inspirational speech to students about her early life and the qualities that have seen her rise through the ranks of Further Education to become one of the sector's most prominent national figures.

Dame Asha was born in Sitamarhi, a small town in the state of Bihar in India, and got married at the age of 15. She came to the UK in 1978 with husband Shankar and three young children; daughter Shalini, and sons Sheel and Sneh.

She described to more than 60 students on care and education and building services courses how she was a full-time housewife for 20 years. Then, through her dedication and determination, she was able to return to complete her formal education as a mature student.

After securing her first teaching job as a business studies tutor at her local college, she enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of Further Education, taking over the helm of West Nottinghamshire College in 2006 and transforming it into one of the largest and top-performing colleges in the country.

Receiving an OBE in 2009 followed by a DBE in 2014 for her services to education, Dame Asha has been awarded a number of other high-profile accolades including the Woman of the Year award 2014 presented by the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, the Dadhabhai Naoroji Award from the then-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, also in 2014, and the Asian Woman of Achievement award in 2008.

President of the college's Students’ Union, Marc Jones, said: “Dame Asha gave our students a very interesting and personal account of how she came to the UK with no English language skills and how she sometimes faced prejudice in 1970s Britain, which she agrees has changed dramatically over the decades.

“It was inspiring to hear how her drive to do well has brought her the success she has today, and she encouraged students to have the same determination for their own life journey.

“We hope Dame Asha’s story has inspired students to write a poem or short story for our Black History Month writing competition which we have been running.”

Black History Month runs throughout October and is a celebration of the contribution to black and Asian culture to the UK as well as commemorating the struggle for civil rights that led to the ending of slavery and more recently the abolition of apartheid in South Africa.

Students have been learning about prominent black and Asian figures in the UK today as well as being encouraged to enter a college-wide writing competition.