University of Leicester eBulletin

Poet, Pianist and Interfaith Champion to be Honoured by University of Leicester

January 2004

No 34 



Three distinguished figures will receive honorary degrees from the University of Leicester on Thursday 5 February 2004 at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

They will be honoured at degree congregations where 850 postgraduate students will also be celebrating as they receive their degrees. They are amongst a total of 1,550 successful Leicester postgraduate students from around the world who gain their qualifications at this time.

The honorary graduands of the University of Leicester are:

  • MR BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH, poet and writer - Doctor of Letters 
  • MR PETER DONOHOE, internationally acclaimed pianist - Doctor of Music
  • MR INDARJIT SINGH, advisor to the Commission for Racial Equality, Editor of the Sikh Messenger and regular contributor to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day - Doctor of Laws

In May 2003 the Financial Times placed the University of Leicester at the head of “a league of their own” for the level of taught postgraduate provision. As the largest provider of taught postgraduate courses in the UK, Leicester has consistently topped the FT league tables in this respect for the past three years. 

Currently, the University has more than 8,200 taught postgraduate students, of which more than half come from 165 countries round the world. Almost 7,000 of these study by distance learning. 

The Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Burgess commented: “I am delighted to congratulate so many graduates on their splendid achievements. It is good to be able to welcome many of our international postgraduates together with their families and friends, many of whom are visiting Leicester for the degree ceremonies. 

“It is also a great pleasure to honour Benjamin Zephaniah, Peter Donohoe and Indarjit Singh, who have each in their own field made such a valuable contribution to society. They offer excellent role models for the University’s students.”


“I am accepting this honorary degree because the University of Leicester knows exactly why it is giving it to me. It is an inclusive institution, and its ethos is cool.”


“Leicester has long set a positive lead in harmonious living between different faith communities. Because of this I was delighted when, during her Jubilee year, HM The Queen chose Leicester for her first ever visit to a Sikh gurdwara.

“It is, then, a real honour to be invited to accept the award of an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from a University that has done so much in promoting this greater respect and understanding.”


Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah was born in Birmingham in 1958. He grew up in Jamaica and in the Handsworth district of Birmingham, and moved to London in 1979. Best known as a poet, he is also a writer of novels and plays and has presented and acted for television and film. As well as writing for adults, he has written for children and young people. He published his first poetry collection, Pen Rhythm (1980) and since then has published over 18 works. In 1998 he was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education to advise on the place of music and art in the National Curriculum. In 1999 he won the Commission for Racial Equality’s Race in the Media Radio Drama Award for his radio play Listen to Your Parents. He has been Creative Artist in Residence at Cambridge University, and, in a Poetry Placement made by the Poetry Society, he spent six months in the chambers of Michael Mansfield QC soon after the Steven Lawrence enquiry had reported. The poems written during that placement appear in the collection, Too Black, Too Strong (2001). His writings go to the heart of racial and cultural issues on both a social and an individual level; often very serious, but also with humour and optimism. 

Peter Donohoe

Peter Donohoe is a pianist of international repute. He was born in Manchester in 1953. He studied music at the Royal Northern College and then in Paris with Olivier Messiaen. In 1982 he was joint winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Since then he has developed a distinguished career in Europe, the USA, the Far East and Australia. He has appeared with many of the world’s famous orchestras including all the major London Orchestras, the Halle, the Czech Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestras. He was an annual visitor to the BBC Proms for seventeen years. He is a keen chamber musician and is the Founder and Artistic Adviser of the British Piano Concerto Foundation, which aims to raise the public's awareness of British piano repertoire through concert performance and recordings. His awards include the Grand Prix International du Disque Liszt and the Gramophone Concerto award for the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 2. He has been associated with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 1974 and is currently vice-president of the Birmingham Conservatoire.

Indarjit Singh

Indarjit Singh was born in Rawalpindi in 1932 and came to Britain in 1933. He studied engineering at Birmingham University and, between 1955 and 1975, he worked in senior positions in mining and civil engineering, including with the National Coal Board, as a manager of mines in India, with Costain and as a consultant in local government in London. He is now a journalist and broadcaster and since 1993 he has worked for the Sikh community, promoting interfaith understanding. He was a founder of the Network of Sikh Organisations (UK) of which he is now an honorary director. He has been an adviser to, or member of, many official bodies, including the Commission for Racial Equality and the Home Secretary’s Advisory Council on Race Relations. People and organisations as diverse as Prince Charles, Anglican bishops and the Metropolitan police have sought his views. He is Honorary Editor of the Sikh Messenger and is familiar to many people in the UK as a regular contributor to Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today Programme. He received the Templeton Award for the Promotion of Inter-Faith Understanding (1989); the Inter-faith Medallion for Services to Religious Broadcasting (1991); and the OBE in 1996.


The University of Leicester postgraduate degree ceremonies take place on Thursday 5 February 2004 at the following times:

11.30 am Faculty of the Social Sciences
Honorary degree: Benjamin Zephaniah, Doctor of Letters
3.30 pm  Faculties of Arts, Education, Law, Medicine and Biological Science, Science 
Honorary degrees: Peter Donohoe, Doctor of Music
Indarjit Singh, Doctor of Laws


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