The Chancellor of the University of Manchester -– Nazir Afzal OBE - took time out of his busy schedule during a private visit to the UAE to tour the Middle East Centre for the first time and to join a lunch with members of the student and alumni community, and the Centre team.
The Chancellor - the University’s ceremonial head and one of its most prominent ambassadors - is involved in activities which promote the University to the wider community and plays a key part in some of the University’s important business. These duties include presiding over meetings of the General Assembly and over congregations of the University for the conferment of degrees. At Manchester, the post is held for seven years. The Chancellor is elected by members of the General Assembly and the Alumni Association, together with all University staff eligible to hold superannuable appointments. The role is an honorary position and cannot, therefore, be held by anyone in paid employment of the University.
The Chancellor was welcomed to the Middle East Centre by Director, Randa Bessiso, and toured the Centre before joining a networking lunch with staff, students, and alumni, followed by a roundtable discussion. As Nazir explained, he had visited the UAE previously but not since before Covid and has not yet had a chance to visit the University’s international Centres (but expects to visit all of them through his chancellorship). He stresses the size of the challenge – 13,000 staff, 46,000 students, the biggest medical school in the UK – there’s a lot of ground to cover. But wherever he is, Nazir is the University’s first ambassador and is always promoting and celebrating what the University does, as he explained.
The world in one place – the UN of graduates
“I’m here on a private visit and it presented an opportunity to see another part of the University, as part of my own induction. As Chancellor, I hold the position for seven years. I started one year ago and I still haven’t met 90% of the University. The University is extraordinary in terms of its reach and impact and I’m gaining a greater sense of what it does, what it can do, and what it wants to do.
“I have been treated with enormous affection and respect here and have had the opportunity during my visit to get into what this part of the University does and it’s massively impressed me.
“During my visit, I listened carefully to the discussion and what I heard was people who are passionate about the institution, have made lifetime friendships, and use their available time to promote Manchester; people who want to give back and make a difference, and always identify themselves as Manchester graduates. It’s a real source of pride, motivation and inspiration.
“The UAE and the region are progressing and developing at an extraordinary rate, and the fact that the University has a presence here gives us enormous opportunities to take advantage of some of the connections, relationships and networks that have been established. We also have the regional alumni network, which is significant now. We are here to learn because the UAE is moving at such a pace and the country innovates faster - people with ideas are able to generate more capacity and deliver results in a very short time.
“Next year (2024) is our bicentenary. Manchester was the world’s first industrial university; the home of the first computer and first splitting of the atom, and activism through the suffragette movement and social reform - and in a sense, the whole of UK democracy. Manchester has always been at the forefront of progress.
“Manchester was also the first University to have social responsibility as a core goal and this is reflected in the global impact ranking – 2nd in the world and 1st in the UK and Europe. Social responsibility is not an add-on, it’s essential and the University has made a conscious decision to be part of the community, wherever we are.
“Manchester won’t sit on its laurels and there are opportunities here in the UAE to strengthen our partnership. The University has a massive strategy for development – the new £1.7bn innovation district by The University of Manchester and Bruntwood SciTech– ID Manchester – will contain offices, laboratories and creative studios to stand shoulder to shoulder with a world-class university. It will help the University build on its reputation for producing the most employable graduates in the UK, recruiting the most students, at the largest single site campus.
“The world has changed but 100 years ago the classroom looked almost the same as today, and this can’t be right. People have decided to learn in different ways – at a distance, through workshops – and Manchester is ahead of this and taking the opportunities of major changes, such as work from home. People are not scared of virtual learning and conversations. The UAE-based students of the University come from many other countries - this is the world in one place – and Manchester is a global University, so this Centre is also a great example of how we demonstrate our global reach.
“Face to face contact has high impact and people support each other and then continue relationships afterwards. We have global reach with more than 500,000 spanning almost every country in the world. People want to study with us and in our environments – this is testament to the credibility, standing and status of the University but it’s not just about learning, it’s also about relationships and networks.
“We are the UN of graduates and this is a powerful statement and one that stays with you. In my first year as Chancellor, people have constantly been sharing their Manchester connections with me. They are so proud of being graduates and still have a relationship with the University in some way and they want to share this.
“Our global community is immense and next year’s bicentenary is a great opportunity to engage and re-engage with them. This includes here in the region because this part of our University is as important as any other.
“I am Chancellor until 2029 – so, six more years – and the University will increase in credibility and status around the world, attracting international students who want to live and work in Manchester. Ultimately, they want a Manchester education and they can now get this anywhere around the world.
“We are committed to engaging with anyone and anywhere, people who want to engage with us. People are really proud of the Manchester purple, people everywhere are proud of the brand, of the education and the networks they have developed and I can assure you, this will just grow and grow.”
Red or blue (United or City)?
“Red - because of my children. The fact that Manchester City are champions of Europe and Manchester United is probably the best-known team in the world says something about Manchester. The city has strong associations with sports, the arts and culture generally, including music. Manchester has always been at the forefront of the creative arts. It’s a real source of pride to me that wherever I go in the world people know Manchester either through the creative arts, sporting successes, or the University - and this can only grow and grow.”
Nazir Afzal OBE
Nazir Afzal is the Former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England and he became Chancellor of The University of Manchester in 2022. During his legal career, Nazir prosecuted some of the highest profile criminal cases in the UK and was ultimately responsible for more than 100,000 prosecutions each year.
His expertise in safeguarding and ethics has seen Nazir take up positions including National Adviser on Gender-Based Violence for the Welsh Government; trustee of both the WOW (World of Women) Foundation and the Association of Safeguarding Partners; and the first ever independent Chair of the Catholic Church’s Safeguarding Agency. Nazir also sits on both the National Police Chiefs’ Ethics Committee and the Independent Press Standards Organisation. In addition to this, Nazir assists the governments of Somalia, Ukraine and Pakistan on Rule of Law reform and dedicates a considerable amount of his time to charitable work. He has published a memoir, , and produces the popular true crime podcast .
In 2005, Nazir was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for his work in criminal justice. Two years later, he received the UK government’s Justice Award and most recently he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Pride of Birmingham 2022.