Political theorist Lord Bhikhu Parekh, whose work has had an impact worldwide, urged students to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ as he received an honorary award from Edge Hill University (20th July).

From humble beginnings in a small village in Gujurat, he was the first member of his family ever to attend university and since then he has established himself as a public intellectual of global significance, the influence of whose scholarship is profound.

His honorary, which was given in light of his contribution to political science, was conferred from the University’s Chancellor Tanya Byron in a ceremony on the Ormskirk campus. Listen to his interview here.

Upon receiving the award, Lord Parekh said: “An honorary degree is one of the highest academic honours a university confers upon those it considers worthy of it and I am naturally most grateful to Edge Hill University for this.”

Born in 1935, he graduated from Bombay University in 1954 with a BA, undertaking an MA two years later. Along with his wife Pramila Dalal, he moved to London in autumn 1959 in order to study at the London School of Economics. He took up a lectureship in the Politics department at the University of Hull in 1967, where he became Professor of Political Theory in 1982. He returned to India for three years in 1981 as Vice Chancellor of the University of Baroda.

His books include studies of Ghandi, Jeremy Bentham and Karl Marx as well as Rethinking Multiculturalism (2002), Europe and the Muslim Question (2007) and A New Politics of Identity (2008). He e is also a public intellectual; invited to chair the Runnymede Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain (2000).

Lord Parekh’s achievements and social conscience are an inspiration to all who come into contact with him, and among his honours are: a life peerage (2000), fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts (1988), of the Learned Societies in the Social Sciences (1999), and of the British Academy (2003).

Passing on his words of wisdom to students, he said: “Graduates today are about to enter a society facing crises at various levels. British society, like any other, depends on the widespread belief that its leaders and institutions will respect certain values, follow certain norms, and exercise their best judgement. Sadly that belief is now shaken. The war on Iraq left a toxic legacy, and shook our faith in the judgement and wisdom of our rulers. The economic crisis, resulting from weak financial regulation and bankers turning into speculators, shook our faith in both the banks and the government. The scandal about the expenses of Peers and MPs made us question the honesty and good sense of our legislators. Collectively these crises amount to a general crisis of trust in our major institutions. Our talented and proud country must obviously find ways of regenerating itself. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, a remark our prime minister is fond of quoting, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

“On an occasion like this when young graduates are about to enter the wider society and hopefully play a major role in it, we might rightly ask what we expect of them. I hope their time at university gives them the great capacity to think critically. The capacity constantly and mercilessly to question yourself and the wider society is the only guarantee that you will lead a worthy and decent life.”