Bihar To Britain: Indian-Origin Educationist Asha Khemka Wins ‘Asian Businesswoman of Year’ Award

15 May 2017

Asha Khemka

Belonging to a small, sleepy town of Sitamarhi in Bihar, Asha Khemka had a unique journey. She arrived in Britain without any English language skills and went on to change the lives of thousands of British students.

She is a Nottinghamshire-based educationist who shifted to Britain with her family in the year 1978. She is now the Principal and CEO of West Nottinghamshire College and has won this year’s Asian Businesswoman of the Year award in Birmingham, UK.

Being an educationist, she has worked with and influenced thousands of people in the past 30 years or so in the UK. However, it is astonishing to know that when she came to England in 1978 with her husband, Shankar Lal Khemka – a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon and three children, daughter Shalini and sons Sheel and Sneh, she could barely speak English and had not even completed her education. She went to school until she was 13 years old and was married and a mother of three at an age of 25.

Upon first arriving at London, Dame Asha had limited formal education and little understanding of the English language and British culture. She was a full-time housewife for 20 years. She taught herself English by watching children’s TV shows and talking to other young mothers. She went on to acquire a business degree from Cardiff University before becoming a lecturer and eventually taking over as principal and CEO of West Nottinghamshire College, one of the largest in the UK.

Asha started working as a lecturer and by 2006, she took over as principal and CEO. In the year 2013, she was awarded Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire; one of the UK’s top civilian’s awards, the female equivalent of knighthood. She is the second woman of Indian origin to be awarded the top British honour for women since the order was instituted in 1917. The first was Maharani Lakshmi Devi of Dhar in 1931.

To receive such recognition is deeply humbling. This is a shared honour, shared with everyone who I have worked with over the years. My passion for further education is impossible to describe and grows more so every day. I am immensely proud to be part of this amazing sector.” She told Hindustan Times

Being a British citizen now, she plans to extend her services to India. She has plans to bring changes to the educational system in India by improving the quality of education and concentrating on skill development.

Khemka said the first skills centre in India will be opened in Chandigarh, where online coaching will be provided in English and mathematics in partnership with her team in Britain. Efforts were on to open a similar centre in her home state of Bihar, she said.

Asha is widely regarded as a leading figure in the world of education and skills. Along with serving on many national educational boards and committees, Asha is also making an impact on the international stage. She is the founding chair of the Association of Colleges (AoC) India – an organisation set up to progress links between educational institutions in the UK and the Indian subcontinent.

Receiving the damehood Asha said,

I am rarely lost for words, yet I am finding it difficult to express how proud and honoured I feel. I am immensely grateful to Britain for recognising my strengths and enabling me to achieve my dreams. 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 a 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 develop closer links between educational institutions in the UK and India. 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.”

She also added, “

I will strive every day to prove that I am worthy of this honour. I am immensely grateful to Britain for recognizing my strengths and enabling me to achieve my dreams. But I will always be a proud Bihari, which has given me the entrepreneurial spirit, drive and determination to succeed.”

Asha is a Woman Of Courage because through her dedication and determination she has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of Further Education – progressing from mature student to principal and chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College which, under her leadership, has grown to become one of the most successful and eminent colleges in the UK. Her dreams and passion for educating the mass with the constant struggle has proved how courageous she is.


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