The principal of Mansfield’s West Notts College has spoken of her pride at receiving her Damehood from the Prince of Wales.
Asha Khemka, who was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the New Year Honours List, was presented with the honour at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Friday.
Dame Asha is the first Indian-born woman for 83 years to be awarded the DBE, which was in recognition of her services to education.
It came five years after she was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Said Dame Asha: “I am rarely lost for words, yet I am finding it difficult to express how proud and honoured I feel.
“This is without doubt one of the proudest moments of my life, along with my wedding day, the births of my three children and becoming a college principal.
“Although it was my second visit to Buckingham Palace, this is such huge recognition that I feel I now have a new responsibility on my shoulders – a responsibility to use this title to make an even greater impact on the Further Education sector and to the communities of Mansfield and Ashfield.
“I have never set out to achieve titles and, as deeply humbling as this is, I will continue with exactly the same ambition and passion as I’ve always had.
“I will strive every day to prove that I am worthy of this honour.”
Nevil Croston, the college’s chairman of governors, said: “Dame Asha is recognised nationally and internationally as one of the most prominent figures in further education today. Under her leadership, the college has built a national reputation for the work it does with employers and placing young people into jobs, particularly through apprenticeships.
“She has led projects, in very challenging times, which have resulted in the college providing world-class facilities for its students and has raised the profile of the communities of Mansfield and Ashfield.”
“It is a privilege to work with someone so committed to education and so passionate about the way it transforms lives. On behalf of the board of governors I congratulate Asha on her investiture as Dame Asha Khemka,” added Mr Croston.
Dame Asha’s story is truly inspirational. Born and raised in Sitamarhi – a small town in the Indian state of Bihar – she was married at the age of 15 and came to the UK in 1978 with husband Shankar and their three young children; daughter Shalini, and sons Sheel and Sneh.
A full-time housewife for 20 years, after raising her children Dame Asha took a secretarial course at college before progressing to a business degree. She began her career as a college business studies lecturer in 1987 and through her dedication and determination, enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of further education.
Since joining West Notts in May 2006, Dame Asha has been instrumental in transforming it into one of the most successful colleges in the country. It is currently the largest college provider of apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds in England.
Later this year, her vision to provide Mansfield and Ashfield with ‘world-class’ education and training facilities will be realised when the college’s £40m redevelopment programme is completed.
In 2008, Dame Asha founded the Inspire and Achieve Foundation – a charity that has helped more than 400 young people classed as ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment and training) get their lives back on track through outreach activities leading to specially-tailored vocational programmes.
She serves on several national educational boards and committees, and is the founding chairman of the Association of Colleges (AoC) India – an organisation set up to progress links between educational institutions in the UK and in India. In February 2013, Dame Asha joined Prime Minister David Cameron’s trade mission to India.