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Man who was illiterate until the age of 18 becomes Cambridge University's youngest ever Black professor

Man who was illiterate until the age of 18 becomes Cambridge University's youngest ever Black professor

Professor Jason Arday joins just five other Black professors in the institution and will become one of just 155 Black university professors.

An autistic man who was unable to read or write until he was 18 has become Cambridge University’s youngest ever Black professor.

Professor Jason Arday, 37, faced a lot of challenges early in his life as he struggled with autism and learning delays which left him speechless until he was 11 years old.

Arday was diagnosed with global developmental delay when he was a child, which affected his ability to learn how to talk and read.

He finally learned how to read and write when he was a teen and managed to become a PE teacher after studying at the University of Surrey.

Professor Jason Arday was unable to speak until the age of 11.

Arday remembers having huge questions about the world, like why some are homeless and why there are wars. Growing up in a disadvantaged area and working as a school teacher also gave him an insight into the systemic inequalities teens from ethnic minorities face in education.

“I remember thinking if I don't make it as a football player or a professional snooker player, then I want to save the world,” he recalled.

When he was 27, Arday wrote on his bedroom wall at his parents’ house: “One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge.”

The professor from Clapham, London, said his first attempts at writing academic papers were ‘violently rejected’ and that he ‘had no idea what I was doing’ and didn’t have a mentor.

Arday wants to encourage people from under-represented backgrounds to pursue higher education.

He said: "The peer review process was so cruel, it was almost funny, but I treated it as a learning experience and, perversely, began to enjoy it."

He wrote papers and studied by night and learned texts verbatim while working as a teacher by day.

All his hard work and extraordinary effort paid off as he earned two master’s degrees and a PhD in educational studies from Liverpool John Moores University.

While studying for his PhD in 2015, he co-edited a ground-breaking report for the Runnymede Trust, 'Aiming Higher', about racial and ethnic inequalities in British Universities.

In 2018, he published his first solo paper and in the same year he successfully secured a senior lectureship at Roehampton University before moving on to Durham University, where he was an associate professor of sociology.

He went on to another prestigious professorship at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education, which made him one of the youngest professors in the UK at the time.

Cambridge University.
eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo

Professor Arday will now join Cambridge, one of Britain’s most prestigious universities where there are only five other Black professors from 6 March.

He will also become will become one of just 155 Black university professors in the UK, out of a total of 23,000.

And as the new professor of sociology of education in the Faculty of Education, he’s hoping to inspire people from under-represented backgrounds into higher education.

"My work focuses primarily on how we can open doors to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds and truly democratise higher education,” he shared.

“Hopefully being in a place like Cambridge will provide me with the leverage to lead that agenda nationally and globally.

"Obviously unpicking a long history in which Cambridge has been, or seemed, very exclusive is difficult.

"There are now lots of pockets of good practice, but culturally this needs to extend throughout the entire university.”

Featured Image Credit: SWNS

Topics: Education, News, UK News, Life