Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke MP receiving his honorary degree (HonDUniv)
Credit: Ede & Ravenscroft


Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, honoured guests and graduands, it gives me great pleasure to be presenting today the Right Honourable Kenneth Clarke, Companion of Honour, Queen’s Counsel and Member of Parliament, for the award of Honorary Doctor of the University.

For 47 years, since 1970, Kenneth Clarke has served as the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe. As the member of the House of Commons with the longest continuous service, he currently holds the title of Father of the House.

Kenneth was born in Nottingham, and attended High School there before going on to read law at Cambridge. He was called to the Bar in 1963 and later took silk as Queen’s Counsel in 1980. Meanwhile he had sought election to the House of Commons almost immediately after leaving university.

During his distinguished political career he has held several senior ministerial offices including Secretary of State for Health, Secretary of State for Education and Science, Home Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. His time as a minister is one of the longest in the modern era, spanning a period of 20 years under Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer from May 1993 until May 1997, Kenneth oversaw Britain’s recovery from recession, halved the budget deficit and attended European Council meetings of national Heads of Government and G7 summits alongside the Prime Minister.

Kenneth returned to the Opposition back benches after the General Election in May 1997 and took on various senior non-executive business appointments. He was appointed as the Chairman of David Cameron’s Democracy Task Force and became Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in January 2009.

Following the General Election in 2010, Kenneth returned to the Cameron Cabinet in the Coalition Government as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. From 2012 until 2014, he served as Minister without Portfolio, working to develop key trade relationships on the Prime Minister’s behalf, particularly the US/EU trade negotiations.

He returned to the back benches in July 2014, when he was appointed a Companion of Honour.

Kenneth was the Secretary of State for Education and Science during a critical period for the creation of this University. In December 1991 the rapidly expanding Derbyshire College of Higher Education had gained full accreditation for the award of taught degrees up to Master’s level and thus satisfied all the criteria to gain polytechnic status. But all the existing polytechnics were due to be made into universities the following September and this was already controversial since few of them were fully accredited to award research degrees.

Within hours of the College submitting its application, Kenneth announced there would be no new polytechnics, and any College of Higher Education wishing to gain university status would have to obtain full accreditation for research degrees as well – something no polytechnic had achieved in less than a decade. The then Academic Director described this decision as one of the best things that happened that year.

In the following months Derbyshire College demonstrated that it was actually better prepared for taking on full research degree awarding powers than even some of the existing polytechnics, and recruited a panel of academic authorities from seven leading universities to act as an ultimate safeguard of standards. As a result the Council for National Academic Awards recommended full degree awarding powers for the College from the Privy Council. On this basis Derby‘s University came into being.

Thanks to Kenneth’s insistence on standards, Derby was able to hold its head high among its new peer group – it had not slipped in through the backdoor. This was a game-changing event for the other aspiring colleges in the UK, a number of which followed Derby’s example in the following decades. This year, as the only university in our county, we are immensely proud to be celebrating our 25th anniversary as The University of Derby.

Chancellor, in recognition of his outstanding commitment to public service and his role in the critical period when the institution’s status changed from College of Higher Education to University, we are delighted to award Kenneth Clarke the honorary degree of Doctor of the University.

[November 2017]