Appointed last August and installed in October, 60-year-old Nazir Afzal OBE is Manchester University’s first chancellor of Muslim-Asian origin. With an abundance of strings to his bow, the Birmingham-born lawyer presents students with an inspirational, broad-sweeping role model.
A long-term consultant on law enforcement worldwide, Nazir was national advisor to the Welsh Government and holds membership of both the Independent Press Standards Organisation and Google Innovation’s counter extremism advisory board. He’s Chair of Hopwood Hall College, the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency and the London Fire Brigade’s Culture Review and a trustee of the Association of the Safeguarding Partnership and the World of Women Foundation and an ambassador for the Holocaust Education Centre.
Nazir’s personal pledge to making a difference and his innate thirst for justice are influenced by childhood experiences of racism. His chosen career in law made sense.
Father-of-four Nazir came north in 2011 after 22 years in London; Manchester is now home. As the North West’s chief crown prosecutor till 2015, his team achieved hundreds of thousands of convictions, including those of the notorious Rochdale sex grooming gangs, murderer Dale Cregan and television presenter Stuart Hall.
Nazir will not be pigeonholed nor silenced. Immediately after the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, he left his prestigious job as chief of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. This freed him to voice his own views. Outspoken and fearless, this chancellor, whose defense of the vulnerable, whose abhorrence of violence against women, whose multi-ethnic insights and media presence render him ageless, stimulates the younger generations.
Above all, for Nazir, education holds a profound significance. Third child of seven in a Pashtun immigrant family, he was the first ever to attend school. Not until his Birmingham University graduation had his late parents entered a university building.
Nazir is “blown away” by those around him, intent upon increasing the university’s communal engagement and looking forward to planning next year’s bicentenary celebrations.
GM: What are the chancellor’s duties?
N: “I hold the university’s most senior post and as ceremonial head, I preside over graduations and am the university’s first ambassador here and abroad. We were the first university to be established in an UK industrial city, we are the UK’s largest on one site and Manchester’s biggest employer.”
GM: Any details?
N: “We have 13,000 staff, 44.000 students and host UK’s largest medical school. We boast 25 Nobel prize winners, including, in 1979, the UK’s first black professor, Sir Arthur Lewis. Our Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health is larger than all Cambridge University.”
GM: Your reaction to your post?
N: “Daily, I walk past where Rutherford split the atom and am constantly struck by the enormity of this institution’s worldwide contribution – past and present. For example, there’s current research into the use of smell for identifying dementia and it was here, in 2004. that graphene – the thinnest material known to man – was rediscovered. We boast celebrity academics Professors Brian Cox and Jean Winterton and just associating with people like this makes me feel intelligent too!”
GM: Does this working environment differ from your others?
N: “Previously, I had to encourage colleagues to engage with the outside world, but here, involvement with religious communities, with travellers and, in fact, with everyone is expected.”
GM: Your aims?
N: “I want Manchester’s citizens to see the value this global institution brings to our daily existence and that its research is recognised as improving everyone’s lives. Its teaching produces the stars of tomorrow. Its social responsibility ensures the world is a better place.”
GM: And the University’s bicentenary in 2024?
N: “This university is globally, nationally, regionally and locally respected. None of us will be here to experience the next centenary, so this bicentenary is a massive opportunity to acknowledge the impact of this university on each of our lives.
It’s important to celebrate in style, so long as we are humble enough to appreciate its journey. For the numerous events to mark the occasion, we are reaching out to our 600,000 former students and everyone interested, asking them to contact us this year and the next.
Manchester University graduates hold positions of responsibility, influence and power all over the world. We want them to rejoin us in any way possible. Details will follow – just contact us.”
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By Fay Wertheimer