Degree Speeches
Winter 2001

Kevin Connell

Public Orator, Professor John Feather, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the morning of Monday 17 December 2001


We are continually reminded of the importance of education. We hear of it almost daily from business people and politicians alike. Education is seen as the key which unlocks our greatest resource: the potential of people. It prepares us, intellectually and psychologically, for a full life of both work and leisure. It is important for everybody, both as individuals and as members of society. The necessity for inclusive education, from which all can benefit, has been a consistent message for many years past. Arguments may rage about how this is to be achieved, but there is no serious disagreement with the proposition that realising our human potential is essential to economic success and social stability.

Socially inclusive education takes many forms. There is a growing recognition of the need to promote access to good education tailored to individual needs. Much of the burden has fallen on the further education colleges with their strong community roots and long tradition of vocational. Lifelong learning – a mantra of current policy – is nothing new to them. Nor is the concept that they must be open to all, regardless of their age, ethnicity or physical condition. Loughborough has had a proud tradition of educational provision at every level for almost a century. In recent years, the Vocational College of the Royal National Institute for the Blind has become an integral part of that provision, standing proudly independent of the University and of Loughborough College, but working closely with both for the common good.

Kevin Connell, whom we honour today, has been Principal of the RNIB College since 1987. He was born in Hull in 1948. At that time, the doctrine was that blind children should be educated separately from their sighted contemporaries, and he was, in due course, sent to the Royal Grammar School for the Blind in Worcester. He moved into mainstream education as quickly as was possible in those days. He spent a year at a further education college in his native city before going to York University, where he took a degree in Sociology in 1971 and met his future wife. Already he saw his career in teaching, and in helping others to have access to the benefits which he had gained from his own education. A Diploma in Adult Education from Edinburgh prepared him for his first full-time job as a Lecturer in Sociology at Wigan College. A year later he was appointed to a similar post at Millbank College, Liverpool, where he was to remain for twelve formative years. He taught at every level which further education had to offer, but he was a learner as well as a teacher, as all good teachers must be. In 1977, he was awarded an MPhil degree in Educational Studies by the University of Edinburgh.

It was inevitable that he should take on additional responsibilities in the College. It is one of the common characteristics of the academic world that those who are good at their jobs are asked to do other things as well! Kevin Connell attracted a growing portfolio of responsibilities for course management, curriculum development and the development of teaching and learning resources. His colleagues elected him to the Academic Board of the College as one of their representatives, and as their collective voice as Chair of the College branch of NATFHE, the academic staff trade union. He was also actively involved in one of the most familiar activities of the contemporary academic world, serving on two reorganisation working parties. He added experience of governance to his growing skills in management by becoming a member of the Board of Governors.

He was ready to move on, and in 1987, made the move to Loughborough. Under his guidance, the RNIB College has moved from strength to strength. Both it and its Principal have achieved international recognition. Kevin Connell himself has travelled to many parts of Europe and beyond to present his forthright views on the education of visually impaired people, a task made easier by his enjoyment of travel and his delight in going to new places. The College itself he sees as a small business, to be run in a business-like way for the benefit of its clients and stakeholders. His forceful and persistent advocacy of its needs – not least its financial needs – within the RNIB has been a success because the College itself is a success. As a result of his work, hundreds of visually handicapped people are now living fruitful lives with the confidence and self-respect which independence confers.

Kevin Connell’s commitment to inclusive education is reflected in the range of his outside appointments. He is a Governor of Loughborough College, and an executive member of the Association of National Specialist Colleges; he has served on the Management Committee of our local Adult Education Centre at Quest House; and he is a member of the East Midlands Further Education Council.

As for many dedicated professionals, work is part of Kevin Connell’s enjoyment of life. But he does other things as well. He is, as I have said, an enthusiastic and independent-minded traveller, having recently added visas from China and Peru to his much-stamped passport. On the Inca trail in the Andes, he proved more robust than his son in coping with the problems of altitude sickness! His enjoyment of music of all kinds takes the very practical form of playing traditional Irish folk music, which in his younger days he travelled to Ireland to collect. And he is a family man whose wife, Evelyn, and children, Joanne and Frank, we welcome here today.

Kevin Connell exemplifies all that is best about our national drive towards a better educated and more inclusive society which can draw on the skills and talents of all its people for the benefit of all its people. As an educator and as a manager of education, he offers a fine example both within his profession and to a wider world.

Therefore, Chancellor, I present to you and to the whole University, Kevin Connell, to be admitted to the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

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