Bradford University defends former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan after students demand he steps down as chancellor as he fails to attend a graduation since 2010


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The Independent Online

Students are being urged to back former international cricket star turned Pakistan opposition leader Imran Khan who is facing a vote of no confidence in his role as a university chancellor amid claims he has failed to turn up to a graduation ceremony since 2010.

Bradford University's student union will vote on a motion next month calling for Mr Khan to step down. The all-rounder was appointed to the unpaid role in 2005. His formal duties - along with promoting the university internationally - include conferring students with their degrees at two annual congregations over five days.

Law student Mohsin Tanveer, who has tabled the motion calling for a new figurehead, said graduates felt neglected and Mr Khan should choose between his political career and his position at the university.

“He has continuously missed graduation ceremonies which is his utmost duty as chancellor,” he said.

“Nobody is against him. Students are unhappy with him not fulfilling his duties, its best for both parties that he stand down,” he added, denying the move was politically motivated.

But Bradford vice-chancellor Professor Brian Cantor has issued an impassioned appeal on behalf of Mr Khan.

“Our chancellor has a major political role in Pakistan, a country which has serious problems with terrorism, education and poverty. While I understand that it is frustrating for students that Imran has not attended an award ceremony at Bradford for some time, I have urged students to be sympathetic to the situation in Pakistan and the responsibility Imran has to improving the state of the country.

“I have appealed to the better nature of our student body to be more supportive of the work Imran has to carry out as a politician,” he said.

Professor Cantor said students should consider whether they would be as “courageous and committed” as their chancellor to improving the lives of others in a country plagued by violence. Mr Khan has alleged that opponents plotted to assassinate him during an election rally in Punjab last year.

The politician is the fifth chancellor of Bradford University. His predecessors include Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who conferred 21,000 degrees during his 19 years in the post from its founding in 1966 and was said to rarely miss a ceremony.

Former ICI chairman Sir John Harvey Jones was chancellor between 1985-1991 whilst Mr Khan succeeded equal rights campaigner Baroness Lockwood.

The Pakistani cricket legend spends much of his time at his hilltop hacienda just outside Islamabad following the break-up of his marriage to Jemima Khan in 2004. He founded Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Justice Movement) in 1996 after retiring from the game and has since campaigned against corruption in his home country.

With a global reputation as a top sportsman and international humanitarian his appointment was regarded as a coup for the West Yorkshire university helping raise the profile of the institution particularly among the city's large Pakistani community.

Mr Khan has recently been accused of appeasing Taliban militants after urging political and military leaders against intervention in Waziristan - where a seven-year long conflict has cost tens of thousands of Pakistani lives - and urging them to seek peace through a lasting agreement.

He suffered spinal injuries during an election rally in 2013 when a crane carrying him collapsed in front of a large crowd of supporters.

Although medieval in origin the role of university chancellor has become increasingly complex. According to Universities UK: “The high profile of many Chancellors in their 'day jobs' means that they can open doors for their institution, as  well as draw on their own experience to offer advice on the increasingly complex business of running a university. They are captains of industry, media commentators, politicians and leading figures from science and the arts.”

College stars: Celebrity chancellors

Brian May

The Queen guitarist served as chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University for five years. The anti-badger cull campaigner – who completed a PhD in astrophysics four decades after dropping out of university to be a rock star – was replaced by Lord Leveson in 2013.

Sir Trevor McDonald

ITN’s first black newsreader was appopinted chancellor of London South Bank University in 1999. He handed over to “Dragon’s Den” star Richard Farleigh last year.

Floella Benjamin

The former “Playschool” presenter has been chancellor of Exeter University since 2006. As well as a successful acting career she led a 20 year campaign to appoint a Minister for Children and was elevated to the peerage in 2010.

Sir Michael Parkinson

In his inaugural speech after becoming the first chancellor of Nottingham Trent University in 2008, he said of his own truncated formal education: “I didn’t so much leave Barnsley Grammar School as flee the premises.”

Professor Sir Patrick Stewart

Better known to millions of “Star Trek” fans as Jean-Luc Picard, the Yorkshireman moved back to the UK from Los Angeles in 2004 and has taught acting master classes at the University of Huddersfield where he is chancellor and a professor of performing arts.