Press release

University to honour Eilish McColgan, Witches of Scotland campaigners and Malawi Vision Champion

Published on 8 November 2022

The University of Dundee will confer honorary degrees on four exceptional and inspiring figures at its Winter Graduation ceremonies next week.

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The University of Dundee will confer honorary degrees on four exceptional and inspiring figures at its Winter Graduation ceremonies next week.

Commonwealth Games champion Eilish McColgan, Witches of Scotland campaigners Claire Mitchell KC and Zoe Venditozzi and Professor Sosten Chiotha will all be awarded the honorary Doctor of Laws degrees in recognition of their achievements.

The graduation ceremonies take place on Thursday 17 November and Friday 18 November.

Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, said, “I am delighted that we will be able to honour Eilish, Claire, Zoe and Sosten at our graduations. They have all made a great impact in their respective endeavours, which is truly inspiring for everyone in our University community and far beyond.

“Professor Chiotha has been of Africa’s strongest voices on sustainability and poverty alleviation in lower income countries.

“Claire and Zoe have led a campaign which has resonated around the world and which has already resulted in an apology from the First Minister for the wrongs of a dark period in Scotland’s past.

“And I know I was not alone in all but shouting myself hoarse in encouragement at Eilish’s athletic achievements over the course of this summer, noting also the huge impact she is having off the track with her efforts to lower the barriers for young women to get into athletics.”

The Graduation ceremonies take place in the Caird Hall in Dundee, with over 1000 graduates set to cross the stage to receive their degrees and other awards.

The honorary graduates will receive their degrees at the following ceremonies:

  • Thursday 17 November, morning ceremony – Claire Mitchell KC and Zoe Venditozzi
  • Thursday 17 November, afternoon ceremony – Eilish McColgan
  • Friday 18 November, morning ceremony – Professor Sosten Chiotha
Notes to editors

There will be photo opportunities before each ceremony in the Robing Room of the City Chambers on City Square.

For morning ceremonies, photo opportunities from 9.15am with the ceremony to start at 10am.

For afternoon ceremonies, photo opportunities from 1.45pm with the ceremony to start at 2.30pm.

Honorary graduates bios:

Claire Mitchell KC and Zoe Venditozzi

The Witches of Scotland (WoS) Campaign was launched on International Women’s Day 2020 by Claire Mitchell KC and Zoe Venditozzi. The campaign has three aims: to obtain a pardon for those convicted as witches under the Witchcraft Act 1563, to obtain an apology for all those accused and to obtain a national memorial to remember those killed as witches.

The Witchcraft Act 1563 resulted in approximately just shy of 4000 people being accused as witches. As with elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of those accused, some 85%, were women.

Confession to allegations of witchcraft were routinely obtained by torture, both physical and mental. The stripping and pricking of women was common, as was sleep deprivation. The torture forced false confessions which were used as the basis for conviction. Of those 4000, academics estimate that approximately 2500 were executed. The method of execution was by way of strangulation and then burning at the stake. Scotland killed five times as many people as witches than elsewhere in Europe.

The Witches of Scotland campaign has achieved its first aim, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a Scottish Government apology for the wrongdoings of the past, and a Member’s Bill has been introduced at the Scottish Parliament seeking a full pardon.

The campaign, which includes a popular podcast, has inspired and influenced other grass-roots initiatives around the world.

Claire Mitchell KC is an eminent criminal defence advocate in the Scottish courts. She was until recently based in Dundee and works in the highest courts across Scotland.

Zoe Venditozzi is a teacher and author based in Fife, and an alumna of the University of Dundee.

Eilish McColgan was a student here at Dundee from 2008, studying for a degree in Maths and Accountancy. She never completed her degree for the very good reason that she was called into Team GB for the London 2012 Olympics.

She has gone on to a successful career in athletics, reaching new heights this summer with a gold medal-winning performance in the 10,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, one of the highlight moments of the entire games. This was followed by a silver medal in the 5000m, and another silver in the European Championships (10,000m).

Eilish is also a World Championships finalist and triple Olympian, having competed for the UK at London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021.

She has emulated the successes of her mother Liz, a World Champion runner and honorary graduate of the University.

While competing on the track, Eilish has also been focused on what she can do for those set to follow her in to athletics. Together with her partner and fellow Olympian Michael Rimmer she has launched the Giving Back to Track initiative to support young athletes, with an initial focus on supporting young female athletes including here in Dundee.

Professor Sosten Chiotha is globally recognised for his considerable body of work and international leadership on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation in lower income countries including interdisciplinary research in the area of policy and practice, and delivering sustainable development and climate action.

He is the Regional Director of the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Southern and Eastern Africa – an organisation which is collaborating with a number of partners to implement research and development projects in the areas of climate change adaptation and ecosystem services, as well as capacity building on the linkage between population, environment and development.

He is one of Malawi’s first Vision 2063 Champions, announced in August 2022. He is also a Board Member for the African Institute for Development (AFIDEP).

Previously, he served as the first Board Chair of the Malawi National Commission of Science and Technology, and currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Southern Voices on Climate Change (SDV).

He has been involved in the drafting of the Malawi National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) and more recently in the drafting of the Malawi Climate Change Policy and Malawi Meteorological Policy.

Professor Chiotha was the lead author of the 2010 Malawi Environment and Outlook Report and apart from lecturing on medical parasitology at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, also served as the University’s Research and Masters in Environmental Science Programme Coordinator.

Professor Chiotha is a graduate of the University of Malawi, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University of Maryland, USA.


Grant Hill

Senior Public Affairs Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768
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