A Bookshelf at an Angle

Alumni Profile

Maureen & Craigan: UWL's Oldest Graduates

The University of West London is proud to host a vibrant, diverse community, home to a wide variety of students of all races, ages and backgroundsWe are especially thrilled to welcome mature students, studying to improve their careers or embark on a new employment journey.  


When it comes to mature students, they don’t come much more mature than Craigan Surujbali and Maureen Matthews, who graduated from the School of Law last year at 87 and 82 respectively. 


Craigan has a real story to tell. Born in 1933 in British Guiana, he grew up in a community with a rich and diverse cultural background. In his own family, he has ancestors hailing from India and China, family members who had originally come to British Guiana as indentured labourers. Craigan was brought up by an illiterate great grandmother and changed school many times throughout his childhood, but this wasn’t about to get in his way. 


I left school at fourteen years old, having had no supervision from my parents or family, but with an overwhelming desire for education which never waned.  


Continuing his education, Craigan attended evening classes offered by the British CouncilHe had a particular interest in Latin, the British Constitution, English Literature and Religious Knowledge.  

When the classes folded up, he sought private tuition by making an application to Queen’s College in Georgetown to study O Level English. Out of the two hundred applicants, he was one of twenty accepted on the course. 


In 1961, at the age of 28, Craigan arrived in England but struggled to settle for social and economic reasons. In 1964-1967, Craigan passed his A-levels in British Constitution and General Principles of English Law together with O Level English and other O Levels. He was quickly accepted by the Inner Temple to read for the Bar but owing to problems of various vicissitudes had to put his lifelong dream on hold.  


Not to be deterred, Craigan remained interested in the law, reading and listening to radio programmesCraigan on the subject and even using his knowledge to achieve success in a counter claim during his career


Craigan and his carer Maureen decided to pursue his dream despite their advancing years and were encouraged in this by Phillip Elliot-Wright of the School of Law


While at UWL, Maureen and Craigan encountered a few difficulties. Craigan had to manage his progressive deafness and deterioration of his eyesight whilst Maureen had to learn new linguistic phrases. She also feared that she might never be able to keep up with the “younger agile minds“  in their peer group. 


Despite these issues, Maureen and Craigan went from strength to strength, eventually earning an upper second in the LLB.  

Discussing his time at UWL, Craigan said:  “I found the lecturers very helpful and elucidative. Throughout my degree course Philipp Elliot-Wright was most supportive. On the occasions when I was hospitalised—-(I had previously had a failed quadruple heart bypass which left me with certain health problems)—it was Darren Douglas and Olivia, from the Student Union, who were extremely helpful in taking me through the mitigation process. I would also like to thank Phillip Ells, head of the Law School, for his keen interest in my pursuits as a student. 


The story of these two, diligently pursuing education and keeping their eye firmly on personal development is nothing short of inspirational. Both Craigan and Maureen are continuing in their studies, planning to read for the bar as Craigan approaches his 88th Birthday.  


We asked him for any final words of advice, wondering what crucial life lessons this ongoing story of resilience and determination had left Craigan with. He said that any students, especially those with disabilities could, with motivation, dedication and tenacity, overcome challenges to achieve success. 

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