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Golden plaudits for colleges' shining stars

"And I'd like to thank . further education"

"And I'd like to thank . further education"

"And I'd like to thank . further education". That was the sentiment from a host of celebrities and high achievers as they learned they were to receive gold awards from the Association of Colleges (AoC) this week. The awards - six this year - are handed out annually to people who have gone on to have big careers with a little help along the way from FE.

One media star looking back to his FE career with gratitude is Richard McCourt, who is among those who will be honoured at the London prize- giving ceremony on June 12. Mr McCourt attended Sheffield College, and is best known as one half of the comedy duo Dick and Dom.

He said: "The radio and television studios at the college are out of this world. The course I did is perfect for people wanting to get into television and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. I'd like to thank the college for all their support."

The AoC says he was singled out in recognition of his self-determination in pursuit of his career and charity work, supporting organisations including Children in Need, Sport Relief 2004 and Marie Curie Cancer Care. Aileen Burgess, a media tutor at the college, said: "Richard was a lively, enthusiastic and determined young man and we are proud to have had him at the college. He had the hunger for a career in the media that is rare in students so young."

Another winner was Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, a former Luton Sixth Form College A-level student who went on to study at Merton College in Oxford, where he gained a first class honours degree in biochemistry before moving to postgraduate studies and research. He moved to Leicester University in 1977, where he developed genetic finger-printing and DNA profiling.

Sir Alec said: "Looking back, I am enormously indebted to everyone there for the tremendous and scholarly education they gave me. Without the advice from the principal then, it would never have occurred to me to apply to Oxford or that I had a chance of gaining a place there."

He was knighted in 1994, and given the Albert Einstein World Award of Science in 1996. In 2004 he received the Royal Society gold medal, having become a fellow of the society in 1986. In 2005 he received a Lasker Award, widely regarded as the American equivalent of the Nobel Prize. In 2006 he won the Morgan Stanley Great Briton Award.

A gold award also went to fashion guru Gok Wan. The presenter of Channel 4's How to Look Good Naked had no formal qualifications when he became a student at Leicester College, before going on to gain a first diploma followed by a national diploma in performing arts. He then studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and his big break came in 2006 when Channel 4 approached him with the chance to present his own fashion show. He went on to write a book based on the programme, and two further series were screened in 2007.

Gold awards were also presented to: Baroness Jane Campbell, formerly of Harewood College in Coventry, who is a commissioner and disability committee chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission; Justine Whittaker, formerly of Craven College in North Yorkshire, who started her own specialist nursing clinic in Lancashire and is a leading researcher in the field of male cancer care; and Andre Iveson, formerly of Keighley Technical College in West Yorkshire, who became joint managing director of a building company employing 250 people.

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