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From Refugee to University Executive

Professor Devendra Kodwani, Executive Dean of The Open University’s Faculty of Business and Law, will introduce the OU’s 50th Anniversary Inaugural Lectures with a lecture on lifelong learning and the role of universities.

We spoke to Devendra, to find out more about his story, and why this subject is so important to him.

From humble beginnings

“My family came from what is now Pakistan and were displaced after partition, so they ended up in what is now Gujarat. I was born and grew up in a refugee camp where there was very little in terms of conveniences or educational opportunities. Whatever little we had in the way of schools and so on were set up by the community of refugees themselves, the few thousand refugees that lived there. Initially, there was nothing- we sat on the floor, we had no books, and used a slate and chalk. All of my classes were taught in my mother tongue.

We lived in a large family group, in one and a half rooms. We did not have running water for many years. We learned how to survive on a shoestring budget and bare minimum facilities. Life itself became a teacher.”

The student becomes a teacher

Devendra achieved good results at school, but heading to college outside the camp widened his world. It showed him that libraries existed, and he became a voracious reader. He had to learn English to be able to study, so developed his language skills too. He went on to study for an MBA, before a teaching and research assistant role came up in a neighbouring institution. That’s where his academic career started. In 2004 Devendra came to The Open University as a lecturer in finance, and since then, there’s been no looking back for him.

My education was a privilege

“Where I am today is because I was privileged to get whatever modest education I could.”

“I used my education as a way of promoting myself and growing myself in life using education as a fight against the challenges. So that perhaps has gone into my DNA as a kind of impact; that if you have good education, if you work on it, it can be the real transformation force in your life. I have seen that now being in an academic life for nearly 25 years, how people have changed their lives.

“It’s a subject close to my heart, in the sense that I have seen education as a transformational force for not just individuals but for society as well.”

In my role as Executive Dean for the Faculty of Business and Law, I bring the passion for the power of education to transform lives and make an impact in a real sense on people’s lives as well as on society. It’s a privilege to be part of the faculty and to lead my colleagues in an area where we can use knowledge of management and law to make an impact on social and economic problems globally.”

Professor Kodwani’s lecture

Entitled “Back from the future, forward from the past: The journey that is lifelong learning”, Professor Kodwani’s lecture will reflect on the past of individual and collective learning and the role of universities. Looking to the past and the future, he will then put a spotlight on the present need for lifelong learning and the role of higher education institutes.

“My own sense of learning is that times are gone when you go to university and that’s your education for life.

All of us will have to put investment into learning throughout our lives, given the pace of change in the world today. Learning has to be seen in the context of global trends- in economics, technology, culture and science- so it can’t be packaged into one chunk of time.”

He’ll propose a framework for discussion on the role of universities and around current online and distance learning technologies, and the nature of lifelong learning provision as it stands.

The lecture takes place on January 28th at 15.00, on The Open University’s Milton Keynes campus. Find out more, register to attend in person or view Professor Kodwani’s lecture online.

The OU 50th Anniversary Inaugural Lectures

All new professors at The Open University are given the opportunity to deliver an inaugural lecture. The series provides an opportunity to celebrate these achievements with each lecture representing a significant milestone in an academic’s career. This year, there is a particular emphasis on the University’s 50th anniversary.
Lectures are open to all to attend in person, and are live streamed.
More information, including upcoming topics and dates for your diary can be found on the OU 50th Anniversary Inaugural Lectures website.

About Author

Liz works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She has over 15 years' marketing experience working across a range of sectors, from diamonds to shampoo. She has a BSc (Hons) in Management from UMIST. In her spare time, Liz is usually found on roller skates or off travelling, having adventures.

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