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Honorary degrees awarded at Bristol University today [July 9]

Press release issued: 9 July 2002

Media release
Honorary degrees awarded at Bristol University today
[July 9]

Bristol University is awarding Honorary degrees to three prominent people at today's degree ceremonies in the Wills Memorial Building.

Dr Abdul Hussein, a chemist and Bristol graduate who is former President of Al-Baath University in Syria, and Professor Michael Shears, Deputy Chairman and Chairman of Operations, Ove Arup Partnership and visiting Professor at the University since 1991, will be honoured with the degrees of Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Engineering respectively at the 11.15 am ceremony. Bill Nicholas, trade unionist, will receive his degree of Master of Arts at the 2.30 pm ceremony.

Abdul Hussein came to Bristol University in July 1965 to study for a PhD in analytical chemistry. He completed his PhD in 1969 in the exciting and growing area of atomic absorption spectrophotometry. He then returned to Damascus University as the youngest lecturer in its history, swiftly becoming Vice-Dean of Science before moving to teach in various universities in Algeria for four years.

In November 1979 he was invited to be President of the infant Al-Baath University at Homs in Syria. Near Homs there was an Institute of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and in Hama, a city about 50 kilometres from Homs, there was a Faculty of Veterinary Studies. He unified these institutes into the developing Homs University. In 1979 there were 2,700 students served by 27 lecturers. Now there are 22,000 students, 550 lecturers and 2,000 support staff.

Under Abdul's leadership the University gained a high reputation throughout the Arab world for its teaching, research, consultancies for industry, services to the community, especially in the fields of health and environment, and as a conference centre.

The University became a member of the International Association of Universities with Abdul serving as a member of the Administrative Board for 15 years. Abdul was also chairman of the membership committee of the Association of Arab Universities for 20 years, establishing co-operation agreements with universities around the world.

One such agreement, ratified with Bristol University in a meeting between Abdul and past Vice-Chancellor, Sir John Kingman, in 1999, arose from sabbatical exchanges between the two universities in the 1990s, most notably involving the Departments of Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering.

In Syria he has chaired many committees in the Higher Council of Higher Education, and was personally involved in establishing educational policy in Syria. He is Honorary President of the Syrian Chemical Society and served for six years as Syria's representative on the Barcelona Conference committee on Research and Technology Development. Abdul is Vice-President of "AlRaja", a society for handicapped children, and has been the recipient of the prestigious Izenhour prize for services to his country, especially in higher education.

With the death of President Assad in 2000 Abdul stood down from the presidency of Al-Baath University, becoming a chemistry professor once again. He is now also working with a group of citizens from his village to start a new private university, called Kalamoon, whose academic focus will initially be on business studies, information technology, languages and applied art.

At the age of four Michael Shears, like thousands of his contemporaries, was moved away from the bombing of London to the comparative peace of the countryside. Back in London in the post-war period, the exciting and developing technologies of the 1950s - hovercraft, nuclear power, commercial jet airliners - inspired the young Michael Shears to add Physics and Chemistry O-levels to his otherwise arts-based subjects. On leaving school, and still uncertain of his future, Michael joined the builders and contractors John Laing plc, initially just as a summer job. Later, after 18 months' site experience on oil refineries and motorway construction, he started his engineering studies. He took a first class honours degree plus two prestigious student prizes at City University.

Following his graduation in 1963 he embraced the design and management craft of the consulting engineer by joining the renowned Ove Arup Partnership and two years later he was awarded another top engineering prize to accompany his Diploma of Imperial College. A Harkness Fellowship followed, leading to a Masters Degree in Structural Dynamics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968.

He returned to Arup's in 1968 and took on the responsibility for multidisciplinary design, project management and specialist consultancy services in manufacturing, energy and high technology industries. In 1984 he became Chairman of the Industrial Engineering Division which he had started in 1977 and also joined the Arup main Board. He initiated Arup's presence in Japan and was a member of their East Asia Board with an operational role in Singapore. From 1996 he was successively Chairman of Arup's Operations Division, Planning and Civil Engineering Division and Transport Division. He is currently Deputy Chairman and Chief of Operations for the Arup Group and Chairman of Ove Arup & Partners International.

Michael is actively involved in overseas business and advises the British government on trade matters. He is Chairman of the Japan Trade Advisors and a member of the Asia Pacific Group for Trade Partners UK as well as being a member of both the Indonesian and Singapore British Business Councils. Michael Shears was awarded a CBE in the Queen's 2001 New Year Honours for services to international trade and trade development strategy.

Bill Nicholas was born in 1914. His father had a Quaker upbringing and was a member of the Independent Labour Party, an organisation close to the Communist Party. His mother belonged to the Women's Guild of the Co-operative Movement. They were opposed to the First World War and his father found himself subject to Industrial Conscription. He worked as a wire netting weaver. Part of the production process involved the dipping of metal in sulphuric acid baths. He died aged 50 when Bill was ten. His mother's only income came from a cleaning job, which the works foreman at his father's old firm found her at the same place.

At 14 Bill was top of his class at Avondale School and with good references from his headmaster sat the exam for East Bristol Central School. The Governors afterwards interviewed him where he was first asked what his father did. On hearing that he was dead he was asked whether his mother could afford the school uniform, sports clothes and books. Of course he had to say 'no' and never heard another word.

In 1928 he started work as a milk roundsman, later driving a float. He continued his own education, which he attributes to his Trades Unions affiliation, with evening classes in First Aid with the Quakers at Broad Weir and with the National Council of Labour Colleges, held in a cafe on Narrow Quay, where Will Coldrick, later an MP, ran classes in good English, Economics, Public Affairs, Chairmanship and Public Speaking.

By the time he was 18 he was Chairman of East Bristol Youth Labour Party and was chairing meetings for Sir Stafford Cripps, then a Bristol MP. He stood for the City Council and was defeated but gained much useful experience. This was when he started his Public Speaking career.

In 1939 he joined the 50th Royal Tank Regiment. After patrolling Southern England against the threat of invasion his regiment left from Glasgow in 1942 bound for North Africa. Because of the need to avoid U-boats in the Atlantic they went the long way round to Port Suez, via Cape Town, taking 12 weeks. Their tanks went on a separate ship, which was sunk.

He spent four wartime years abroad and in that time, besides North Africa, he went to Sicily, Italy and Greece where he went on a course at the British School of Archaeology. He also drove transport in Greece for the United Nations Refugee Relief Organisation. He came home to his old job under the Bevin Plan and re-connected with the Trades Unions.

A number of people headed by Professor Cecil Powell, the Nobel Prize Winner, together with others from Bristol University, who had recognised his work before the War, put on a dinner for him. He went back to his political work, now supporting the national figures that represented Bristol in Parliament, Sir Stafford Cripps and then Tony Benn. He attended the first Trades Union Congress after the War.

In the early 1960s he was asked to be Personal Assistant to the Manager of the Co-op. Later he became President of the Bristol Trades Council and Branch Secretary of USDAW, the shop workers' Union. He was involved with not just Trades Unions but with the way forward for the people of Bristol in areas such as transport and employment.

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Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Tuesday, 09-Jul-2002 13:48:00 BST

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