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Honorary degrees for Scotland’s national poet and high-profile campaigner on disability, inequality

Chamber Member University of Stirling:

Honorary degrees for Scotland’s national poet and high-profile campaigner on disability, inequality

Scotland’s national poet Professor Kathleen Jamie and Dr Sally Witcher OBE, a high-profile campaigner on disability, inequality, and exclusion, are to receive honorary degrees from the University of Stirling.

Professor Jamie – Scotland’s Makar, or national poet, and a former Professor at Stirling – will be recognised for her outstanding contribution to literature, while Dr Witcher is receiving the honorary doctorate for her outstanding contribution to improvements in the lives of disabled people.

The doctorates will be presented at the University’s spring graduation next Friday (24 March), which will see 555 students from 37 countries graduate and join Stirling’s 100,000-strong global alumni family.

Professor Sir Gerry McCormac, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling, said: “Graduation is a special occasion, and we are looking forward to welcoming our graduands to campus next week, to celebrate their academic achievements alongside their proud families and friends, and our university staff.

“We will also be joined by Professor Kathleen Jamie and Dr Sally Witcher, who will receive honorary doctorates in recognition of their outstanding contributions in their respective fields.

“Professor Jamie is an award-winning poet, essayist and author of non-fiction who spent 10 years at the University, as Professor of Creative Writing. Her works are known around the world, and, as Scotland’s Makar, she is a prominent champion for the reading and writing of poetry nationally.

“As a high-profile campaigner on disability, inequality, and exclusion, Dr Witcher has held a range of senior leadership roles during her esteemed career. They have included serving as Chair of the Scottish Commission on Social Security, Chief Executive at Inclusion Scotland, Deputy Director in the Department for Work and Pensions’ Office for Disability Issues, Chair of the UK Government’s Disability Employment Advisory Committee, and Director of the UK Child Poverty Action Group. She has lived experienced as a disabled person and has recently become a strong advocate for a Covid-safe, inclusive new normal.

“Professor Jamie and Dr Witcher are making a real difference in Scotland and beyond, and are excellent, inspirational role models for our students and graduates.”

Students from all five faculties of the University will graduate at 11.30am on Friday 24 March in the first graduation ceremonies of 2023.

Further graduations are held in summer and winter. For more information, please visit our graduation webpages.

Biographies of honorary graduates

Professor Kathleen Jamie

Photographer: Robin Gillanders

Professor Kathleen Jamie is an award-winning poet, essayist, and author of non-fiction, who spent 10 years at the University of Stirling as a Professor of Creative Writing. She is currently Scotland’s Makar, or National Poet.

Raised in Currie, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Professor Jamie describes her early experiences of writing poetry as “secretive and liberating and real”. Having been publishing for more than 30 years in both English and Scots, her work concerns nature, travel, and culture. Poetry collections include The Overhaul – which won the coveted 2012 Costa Poetry Prize – and The Tree House, which won the award for best collection at the Forward Prize for Poetry in 2004.

Her non-fiction titles include the highly-regarded Findings trilogy (Findings, Sightlines and Surfacing), which are all regarded as important contributions to new nature writing. Her most recent poetry collection, The Bonniest Companie, explores her native Scotland and her place within it. Notably, the 51-poem collection won the 2016 Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award, where judges described the poems as “utterly relaxed and matter of fact yet profound in their implications”.

Known across the world, Professor Jamie’s works have appeared across the mainstream media, and she has written for BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. Her poetry has appeared on the London, New York, and Shanghai underground systems and, closer to home, her poem ‘Here lies our land’ was chosen by the public to be carved on a huge wooden beam at the national monument at Bannockburn.

She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009; honoured by the Royal Geographical Society in 2017, receiving the Ness Award for outstanding creative writing at the confluence of travel, nature and culture; and elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2018.

She was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Stirling between 2010 and 2020, and also held a position at the University of St Andrews. During her time at Stirling, Professor Jamie wrote ‘Stone to the Sun’, a poem capturing the spirit of the Garden of Time – created on campus for the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2017 – and the surrounding ancient landscape.

Appointed as Scotland’s Makar in August 2021, Professor Jamie takes a leadership role in promoting poetry nationally, produces poems relating to significant national events, and encourages the reading and writing of poetry, particularly by young people.

Dr Sally Witcher OBE

Photographer: Lesley Martin

Dr Sally Witcher OBE is a high-profile campaigner on disability, inequality and exclusion. She has held a range of senior leadership roles in related fields in third and public sectors, and was awarded an OBE in 2006 for her services to people with disabilities.

Between 1993 and 1998, Dr Witcher headed up the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the UK-wide anti-poverty organisation, where she did much to raise the organisation’s profile while leading it through a period of organisational change. In the late 1990s, Dr Witcher moved to Scotland and into academia, achieving an MSc with distinction in Policy Studies at the University of Edinburgh before going on to complete a PhD in Diversity and Social Inclusion between 1999 and 2006. She has been a member of many government and research advisory groups, including for the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics. During that period, she also lectured at Queen Margaret University College, worked as a consultant, and chaired the UK Government’s Disability Employment Advisory Committee.

On completing her PhD, Dr Witcher took up the role of Deputy Director in the Department for Work and Pensions’ Office for Disability Issues, a new cross government unit set up to co-ordinate, support and drive forward the UK Government’s ‘Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People’ strategy for disability equality. During her time there, her responsibilities included work to enable the involvement of disabled people in cross-government policy development, inclusive communications, projects on independent living, and advice to ministers.

Between 2013 and 2021, Dr Witcher was Chief Executive Officer at Inclusion Scotland, a national membership organisation led by disabled people which works to achieve positive changes to policy and practice. While there, she led the significant expansion of the organisation, drove forward the involvement of people with lived experience in policymaking and introduced an internship scheme, placing disabled people with host employers in all sectors, among other achievements. Until recently, she chaired the Scottish Commission on Social Security, charged with helping to embed human rights and key principles into both legislation and delivery of the new devolved social security system. She has now chosen to return to consultancy.

Dr Witcher is a wheelchair user and has had lived experience of disability since early childhood. Most recently, as someone at high clinical risk from Covid-19, she has become a strong advocate for action to promote a Covid-safe inclusive new normal.

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