Sedgley students have been making headlines this week, with two men in particular proving it’s never too late to learn.
Grandfather of six, Colin Clews, made the news on websites worldwide this week due to him being, at 83 years of age, the University of Wolverhampton’s oldest graduate and possibly the oldest in the UK.
Tony Collins, chief executive of Virgin Trains, was also presented with an honorary degree from the same university’s business school.
For Colin, graduating with a university degree was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream which involved putting his 50-year career in engineering to good use – the complete opposite to most students who go on to a career after studying their chosen subject.
He says: “I was nervous of graduating – I couldn’t imagine myself in a cap and gown.”
The father of three trained as an electrician’s mate during the Second World War before working for 30 years at British Federal Welders in Dudley.
After this, he moved to a company in Birmingham which supplied equipment to carmakers.
“I had the best job in the world, but it was a career being faced with problems and never knowing how to solve them properly,” he explains.
“I would find a solution but always felt I needed to know more. I didn’t have time for a formal education.”
That changed when, after retiring at 65, Colin signed up to an Access to Education course at Dudley College and then dedicated himself to looking after his late wife, Ivy.
He was inspired to study for a degree after seeing one of his grandson’s preparing for exams.
“I found myself looking over my grandson Jamie’s shoulder at some work he was doing for his A-levels and thought I would like to do something like that,” he says.
Colin chose to study mechatronics – a mixture of mechanical and electronic engineering, and graduated with a 2:1 BEng (Hons) degree.
“For the three years, I had a thoroughly good time. It takes over your whole life. You don’t have time for mowing the lawn or painting and decorating,” he jokes.
He is also full of praise for the University of Wolverhampton, adding: “I made a lot of good friends and met a lot of nice people. The tutors were awesomely knowledgeable about their subject and the university itself was first class.”
Another Sedgley resident, chief executive of Virgin Trains, Tony Collins, was awarded a doctor of business administration in recognition of his significant and successful contribution to the railway management and rail passenger service of Virgin Trains.
He says: “I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this honorary degree. I am a very proud Black Country lad and to receive this from my local university is such an honour.”
Born in Sedgley in 1957, Tony left school at 16 to start an apprenticeship with Rockwell-Thomson, a motor pressing manufacturer in Ettingshall.
After five years of training he became a qualified chartered management accountant, rising to a Fellow of the Institute in 1987.
Throughout his career Tony has held a number of financial positions based at Austin Rover in Longbridge and Yale Fork Lift Trucks in Wednesfield. In 1989 he became financial director at GEC Cannon Industries in Coseley.
In 1993, he moved to train building company, GEC Alstom Metro-Cammell, as financial director before joining Virgin Rail as major contracts director in 1999. Here, he was responsible for introducing the Pendolino and Voyager trains into passenger service and overseeing the upgrade to the West Coast mainline infrastructure.
In 2004, he became chief executive and today, from his Birmingham-based office, has responsibility for Virgin Rail business, which carries 30 million people a year, employs 3,500 people and has a turnover of £900million per annum.
Both men joined thousands of other University of Wolverhampton graduates to collect their scrolls during the graduation ceremonies at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre.
Visit the University of Wolverhampton website for further information.