Ghana gets tough on Honoraries

In Ghana, the Accreditation Board is “mad” at honorary degree awards

Ghana News reports that the country’s Accreditation Board is “mad” at honorary degree awards by unqualified institutions:

The conferment of honorary degrees is the prerogative of degree awarding institutions so mandated. Therefore accredited private tertiary institutions operating under the mentorship of chartered, degree-awarding universities are not qualified by themselves to confer honorary degrees. Any such institutions that do so are in contravention of Regulation 19 1 of Legislative Instrument 1984 which states that: An accredited institution shall not issue certificates or award its own degrees, diplomas or honorary degree without a Charter grated to it for that purpose by the President.

National_Accreditation_Board,_Ghana_(NAB)_logoThere are also instances where some foreign institutions confer such honorary degrees, particularly doctorate degrees on prominent personalities with intent to legitimize and popularize the operations of the institutions in Ghana, and thereby seek to attract unsuspecting students to enroll in them. The national Accreditation Board wishes to caution the general public and advise that distinguished personalities invited for such awards should verify the accreditation status and degree-awarding powers of the institutions that seek accreditation status and degree-awarding powers of the institutions that seek to confer on them honorary degrees to avoid any embarrassing fallouts.

I posed here recently about a spate of Honorary Degree revocations but the concern in Ghana seems to be more about unaccredited institutions securing undeserved credibility by inviting the great and the good to accept an Honorary.

Ghana Web’s editorial takes an even stronger position:

The quest for the enhancement of mankind’s creature comforts has driven many to crazy heights such as preceding their names with high flaunting titles. The number of those ad hoc institutions and individuals ready to assist them achieve these objectives, their quality notwithstanding, has increased exponentially.

Exploiting our penchant for such high flaunting appellations, which these institutions hardly heard of in their own countries, have constantly bestowed the useless and worthless titles to people who can pay for the service directly and indirectly.

It is lamentable that the near-fraudulent practice has gone on almost indefinitely, until recently when the National Accreditation Board (NAB) woke up from a worrying Rip Van Winkle slumber to read the riot act about the dubious conferment.


And as Ghana Soccernet reported:

Ex-Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah found his honorary degree wasn't worth much after all

Ex-Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah found his honorary degree wasn’t worth much after all

The National Accreditation Board has discredited the honorary doctorate degree conferred on ex-Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah by the Day Spring Christian University of Mississippi. But the board says the university alongside three others- Pan African Clergy Council and Bible College, Global Centre for Transformational Leadership and the World Council for Evangelical Clergy- is uncertified to honour prominent individuals.

So, bad news for Kwesi and others who have picked up awards from unaccredited universities. In the UK though, it doesn’t seem terribly likely that iffy institutions not on the HEFCE list of registered providers will be looking to draw attention to themselves in this way. And no-one could accuse UK agencies of a ‘Rip Van Winkle slumber’.

Can we have our Honorary Degree back please?

Honorary Degree revocation is pretty unusual

Previous posts have commented on the awards of Honorary Degrees to celebrities. The risk for universities in making such awards though is that famous people sometimes turn out to be not such terrific assets to the institution’s reputation. There are only a few examples of this but they are pretty striking.

The most significant was arguably the decision by the University of Edinburgh in 2007 to remove the degree awarded to Robert Mugabe. As the Observer reported at the time:

Edinburgh University will tomorrow revoke an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The degree was awarded in 1984 for Mugabe’s services to education in Africa. He has since been blamed for Zimbabwe’s failing economy and accused of running an oppressive regime.

The decision to revoke the degree is the first in the history of the academic institution and follows years of campaigning by politicians and students, concerned about Mugabe’s human rights record.

Although Mugabe never replied, the government of Zimbabwe said the decision to revoke the honorary degree was a ‘humiliation’ for Edinburgh University and branded the institution ‘a disgrace’ and its students ‘uninformed’.

robert-mugabe-03The University of Massachusetts Amherst also withdrew its award to Mugabe (although some years later than Edinburgh).

Interestingly Edinburgh has instituted a specific withdrawal procedure to cope with this very eventuality:

Principles underpinning the procedure
In recognition of the need to guard against (a) a proliferation of proposals for withdrawal and (b) an honorary graduate falling foul of populist thinking the following principles underpin the procedure:
• Any review of an Honorary Degree can only be considered on receipt of substantial new information which, for good reason, was not available previously.
• The situation and values of the time of award conferment remain the relevant considerations.
• Non application posthumously.


Jimmy Savile, who was awarded an Honorary Degree by Bedfordshire University in 2009, had it rescinded in 2012 after his death and the subsequent revelations about his activities. (Note that this would not have been possible under the Edinburgh procedure…)



Fred Goodwin, former CEO of RBS, who had his knighthood revoked also faced calls for the withdrawal of the Honorary Degree awarded by St Andrews University. But this appears, despite a campaign by students back in 2012, to have been resisted by the University.

Less fortunate than Goodwin is Constance Briscoe who, on top of other humiliations, found herself having her honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton revoked. As reported in the Express & Star:

Disgraced judge Constance Briscoe has been stripped of her honorary degree by the University of Wolverhampton.

It comes just days after she was removed from the judiciary after being jailed for her part in the speeding points scandal that saw former Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne and his estranged wife sent to prison. The university confirmed it was considering stripping Briscoe of the award in May and has now revealed it did go ahead with the removal. Professor Ann Holmes, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “The University of Wolverhampton’s nominations committee has revoked Constance Briscoe’s honorary award, as we take the award of honorary degrees very seriously.”

And then we have the case of Brandeis University which, according to the Guardian,  decided to withdraw an Honorary before it had even conferred it:

A university has reversed a decision to grant an honorary degree to an advocate for Muslim women who has made comments critical of Islam.

Brandeis University said in a statement that Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali would no longer receive the honorary degree, which it had planned to award her at the May 18 commencement.

Possibly a first.

Of course the lesson here for universities is to be very careful about the selection of Honorary Degree recipients. Easier said than done though. Although you could always introduce a new procedure to facilitate withdrawal when required.

Honorary Degree: serious or celeb 2014

Who are this year’s lucky winners?

A post some time ago on Honorary Degree recipients noted that almost all of them fall clearly into one of two categories: they are either serious or celeb. Back in 2013 I provided a handy list of recent Honoraries for further analysis.

Basically, if you are a serious academic, no matter how outstanding your research, if you haven’t got your own TV series or appearing frequently in the tabloids, you really aren’t going to get the coverage. So, it does rather look like quite a few of the honorary degrees awarded this year might be for something other than sustained and outstanding achoevement in a particular field. But perhaps I’m being harsh and some of these awards are for reasons other than fleeting celebrity:

The very famous breakfast presenter Louise Minchin was recognised by the University of Chester for all of her early morning achievements.

How? Yes, Fred Dinenage got an Honorary from Southampton Solent


HOW? (Dinenage at back left. No pipe.)


Cheers! Hanover College recognises Woody Harrelson for his many acting achievements.

Pele picks up yet another award, this time from Hofstra.

jeff lynne

Jeff Lynne – All his own hair

Bryan Ferry – Extraordinary that it took so long for Newcastle University to recognise the Roxy Music frontman’s genius

Jeff Lynne, of ELO fame, gets a scroll from BCU.

Placido Domingo – hitting all the right notes at Berklee College of Music
(nope, I’ve never heard of them either).

James Galway, perhaps not as famous as he once was, nevertheless gets an award from Rochester.

Not as famous as he once was

Can you guess which instrument he is famous for?

A collection of giants from the world of popular music have also been recognised by some leading institutions:

Sean Puffy Combs received a lot of publicity for his richly deserved Honorary and commencement address at Howard University.

Puffed up? Moi?

Puffed up? Moi?

Yoko Ono urges graduates “Let’s together be the metronome of our very troubled human culture or human race” after picking up her honorary.

Ricky Ross, legendary Deacon Blue frontman, picked up a degree from Abertay.

They don’t come cooler than this – LL Cool J was rewarded for his outstanding achievements by Northeastern.

Let’s rock as AC/DC’s Brian Johnson gets the nod from Northumbria.

And perhaps the most richly deserved is the honorary for Pitbull. Not before time.

Who can begrudge this award to rock titans Rush who picked up a collective award from the improbably named Nipissing University?

No time for 20 minute solos at graduation folks

No time for 20 minute solos at graduation folks

Moving on…

The University of Kent is recognising this celebrity triumvirate: Harry Hill, Sandy Toksvig and Robert Wyatt – all eminently worthy in their fields (well, Robert Wyatt for sure).

And Edge Hill has an equally impressive trio recognising Johnny Vegas, Harrison Birtwhistle and John Foxx.


It's a degree certificate

It’s a degree certificate. Nothing legal at all.

And then, of course, for his outstanding and lengthy football career (rather than his temporary stint as manager at Old Trafford presumably), no writs can prevent us knowing that Ryan Giggs has been awarded a degree by Bolton.

Finally, and most youthfully among this collection, Aaron Porter is to be recognised by his alma mater the University of Leicester. Perhaps more serious than celebrity this one.

So, an impressive and rich crop this year. Any exceptional awards I’ve missed out?

More honoraries: serious or celeb 2013

Who are the lucky stars this year?

A previous post on Honorary Degree recipients noted that almost all of them fall clearly into one of two categories: they are either serious or celeb. The former really don’t get much press coverage so it doesn’t really matter if you have won a Nobel prize, discovered a new element or are a great writer or artist you really aren’t going to get noticed for your Honorary if you don’t feature regularly in the tabloids. So who are this year’s celeb graduates and who are the serious stars?

First up is Emma Thompson who collected an honorary degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) in Glasgow along with her mother Phyllida Law.

Sir David Attenborough has been given yet another honorary degree from Queen’s University in Belfast, adding to his huge pile of scrolls. This is allegedly at least his 31st honorary. He’s always been a bit of a collector.

Birmingham chose to honour Mock The Week panellist Chris Addison. The press release notes that “the funny man first graduated from the university with a degree in English literature in 2004.”


Birmingham is also awarding an honorary to Michael Acton Smith, founder of Moshi Monsters, together with media star and former Midlands Today presenter Kay Alexander.

Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Jason Kenny has been award an honorary doctorate of science by the University of Bolton.

The ubiquitous Emeli Sande was awarded a Doctor of the University by Glasgow for her “outstanding contribution to the music industry”.


UCD has honored Sinead Cusack who was once a student there but quit to be an actor.

Barbra Streisand received an honorary doctorate of philosophy degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Glenn Close received a Doctor of Laws from Canada’s Queen’s University

Bowie State University awarded Ashford and Simpson, singing duo, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree (or possibly one each).

Warwick honoured Gavin and Stacey star Ruth Jones. who was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters along with Adrian Lester, who appeared in BBC series Hustle.

Judy Dench picked up yet another Honorary from Stirling.

Bill Clinton popped into the University of Edinburgh to pick up his latest award.

St Andrews awarded Terry Jones an Honorary.

And finally, my personal favourite, Richard Jobson, formerly of the popular beat combo The Skids, was awarded the world’s biggest ever Honorary Degree by Napier University.


News just in that this year’s most inspired Honorary Degree award has been made by Salford University. Step forward Dr John Cooper Clarke who is quoted thus in the Manchester Gazette:

The Doc

The Doc

John said: “I am very proud to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Salford University.

“The city where I was born and grew up.

“I am very much looking forward to using the title ‘The Doc’.

“There have been lots of positive changes since I worked at Salford Tech, in the 70s.

“I am pleased to be known as Salfords’ Bard and to have helped put it on the map.”


Great one this – another inspired choice – Leeds Met give an Honorary to Barry Cryer. “My CV is now one line. BA Eng Lit. Failed. Honorary Doctor of Arts.”

Hobbit talk

A great oration.

Continuing the ceremonial theme this week. I recently received an email from a Tolkien scholar asking for a copy of the oration delivered when the great man was awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Nottingham back in 1970. Well, I must admit I thought it might be a little tricky to locate this but one of my colleagues knew exactly where to find the oration: it was published in an edition of the University Gazette (since discontinued) and therefore would have had a reasonable circulation at the time.


Having come across this in such a fortuitous way I thought it was worth reproducing in its entirety. I suspect it remains one of the few orations to mention Hobbits quite so freely (at least until the University of Kent decided to honour the actor Orlando Bloom) and is therefore worth a read for that alone although the phrase “deep fruity laugh” is also noteworthy.

Here it is

The Public Orator, Professor E. J. W. Barrington, M.A., D.Sc., F.R.S., delivered the following orations when presenting the honorary graduands to the Chancellor:
For the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa:

Your Grace and Chancellor,
All members of the Congregation will join with the University Officers in deeply regretting that there are no Hobbits with us today. Well-informed as we are regarding the way of life of these Little Folk, we know that they would have welcomed the opportunity to dress in bright colours. And they would have relished even more the provision of luncheon and tea, for Hobbits are fond of six meals a day (when they can get them), and their consequent tendency to be fat in the stomach need not have made them unduly conspicuous. But it is your Public Orator who most keenly regrets their absence, for they have the singular merit of enjoying simple jests, and of responding to them with deep fruity laughs. And what can fall more rewardingly upon the ear of any Public Orator than the sound of a deep fruity laugh?

But if we are deprived of the Hobbits themselves, we have the pleasure of welcoming their distinguished chronicler, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and at Exeter College, Oxford, he served in the First World War and then, in 1920, went to the University of Leeds as Reader, and later Professor, in English Language.

Those who knew him at that time might well have predicted for him a progress to academic eminence along well-trodden paths, and would have felt confirmed in this expectation when he was appointed at an early age to the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. He held this Chair from 1925 to 1945, during which period he initiated the modern critical study of Anglo-Saxon poetry. His influence was exerted partly through some highly significant essays, but no less through his intensely vivid and dramatic teaching, which has left ineradicable memories. What pupil could forget a Professor who was prepared to prostrate himself upon the floor if he could thus the better illustrate the drama of Anglo-Saxon combat?

But other modes of expression must also have been stirring within him, for in 1937 he published The Hobbit, or There and back again, that memorable account of the perilous journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins. It is now recalled that during those early North Oxford days his creative energy was so far overflowing that from time to time he would himself polish his shiny yellow brass door knob with all the care of a thoroughly domesticated Hobbit. With his removal, first to Headington, and now to a location more closely concealed than that of the Hobbits themselves, North Oxford can hardly be the same, and cer¬tainly the door knob is not, for its once cheerful surface has been covered with a coat of sad varnish.

From 1945 to 1959 he was still at Oxford, holding the Merton Chair of English Language and Literature, and it was then that it became apparent that The Hobbit was only a beginning. Stung, perhaps, by the suggestion that he might prove to be Oxford’s second Lewis Carroll, an occasional writer of small-scale works, he proceeded to the remarkable achievement for which he is now best known. This is his heroic romance, The Lord of the Rings, planned as a vast sequel to his earlier tale. His profound and scholarly grasp of the whole range of Germanic mythology, combined with an intense personal interest in the supernatural, here comes to superb expression, in a fantasy which explores an invented world, and maintains with compelling consistency every detail of life within it.

Tolkien has never lost touch with the academic roots of creative scholarship from which his fantasies have grown. But to a host of readers throughout the world he is primarily esteemed for providing in such rich measure, through the power of his imagination, the recovery, the escape, and the consolation which he sees as the prime gifts of the fairy-story, for adults as much as for children. “Why,” he asks, “should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”

We can assure him that at no time has it occurred to us to apologise for our frequent escapes to the Shire, and, for choice, to the home of Mr. Bilbo Baggins. To that nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing, and with freshly baked seed-cakes in the pantry. “If ever you are passing my way”, said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!”

Your Grace and Chancellor, I present to you John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, as eminently worthy of receiving the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

They don’t do them like that any more.

Chancellor successfully installed

One of those big University events.

Yesterday the University of Nottingham installed (a technical term) its seventh Chancellor, Sir Andrew Witty.

Full details of the appointment and the background to Sir Andrew can be found on this page about the installation and the video of the event can be found here.
Note that the video starts with 45 minutes of milling about so you might want to skip some of that. I have one sentence to deliver which I manage at around the 47 minute mark. It gets better after that and in addition to the installation two Honorary Degrees are conferred.

The job of Chancellor is an unusual one. For reference, the job spec is as follows:

The Chancellor has a number of key roles including ceremonial duties – playing a formal part in graduation ceremonies – and acting as an ambassador and advocate of the University in the UK and around the world. He also acts as a key adviser on matters of major strategic importance to the development of the University. It is an unremunerated role.

Alternative perspectives on this can be found in this UUK publication ‘Beyond Ceremony’ which contains “anecdotes and advice from UK chancellors”. Actually, I’m not sure our new Chancellor is really going to need much in the way of advice (or Chancellorial anecdotes). Sir Andrew is an outstanding and hugely impressive individual and will I am sure be a huge asset to the University of Nottingham.

Anyway, the installation was a terrific event and one of those special days in the life of the University where tradition, ceremony and forward thinking combine and lots of staff, stakeholders, alumni and friends of the institution come together in a shared celebration of past achievements and future ambitions. And a lot of wonderful work from many of my colleagues to make it all happen.

Footnote: an interview with the new Chancellor is also available:

The Imperfect University: Graduation – a bit London 2012?

Graduations: A bit like the Olympics but then some

Graduation is one of the most significant events in the university calendar. It is a slightly bizarre and rather ritualistic event. Everyone (well, nearly everyone) dresses up, in gowns and/or posh frocks or newly acquired suits.

I have attended two of my own and over 150 others at different institutions. Whilst I was a bit grumpy about attending the one for my undergraduate degree (I decided I was doing it just for my parents), pretty chipper about the second (after nearly 10 years’ hard graft on my PhD I genuinely felt I’d earned it) and having skipped the one for the Diploma in Management Studies in between I do really rather like them now.

A US commencement

Whilst there is something to be said for the total experience of the US style commencement, I do think the UK model is hard to beat in its mixture of pomp, flummery and joy. And it is quite a bizarre event when you think about it, with few parallels in public life; whilst weddings, funerals, christenings and knightings come close they all involve smaller numbers of people whereas in graduations hundreds of people are the centre of attention, albeit only for a few moments each. Graduation days are just about the only days in the university calendar when everybody is happy or at least the smallest number of people are gloomy.

The closest parallel I think is with the atmosphere around the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics where the experience in all of the venues and on Olympic Park was one of uniform near rapture from volunteers, staff, participants (most of them) and audience alike. OK the various garish sportswear combinations aren’t quite as formal as gowns, hoods and mortar boards but the analogy broadly holds good I think.

London 2012 crowd

Organising graduation ceremonies is one of most thankless tasks in the administrator’s panoply of duties. I’ve often thought it is a bit of a short straw in that many aspects of your work are extremely visible (and permanently on record, available on DVD for a very reasonable price), you are dependent on lots of other people doing what you expect of them and there are just dozens of things which can go wrong and over which you have little or no influence. Senior staff, whatever their role in the event, will always delight in passing on some helpful bits of advice about where things went wrong or could have been improved.

Rituals are interesting. Shaking of hands and bowing in different combinations are pretty much commonplace. My recollection of graduating at Edinburgh was that you leaned forward and were hit on head by a large piece of velvet claimed to be a piece of John Knox’s breeches:

According to University legend, the graduation cap (the Geneva Bonnet) was made using material from the breeches of John Knox.

I’m sure it was orange when I graduated but it looks a bit different in the photo. It also now strikes me as rather unlikely that the said item would have lasted for 400 years of head bashing (and it would be generally rather unhygienic too). It also seems a distinctly odd thing to decide would be a good way to signify graduation.

Things are even odder at Cambridge where, naturally, things are also all done in Latin:

The Praelector presenting the graduand holds the candidate by his or her right hand and says:
“Dignissima domina, Domina Procancellaria et tota Academia praesento vobis hunc virum (hanc mulierem) quem (quam) scio tam moribus quam doctrina esse idoneum (idoneam) ad gradum assequendum (name of degree); idque tibi fide mea praesto totique Academiae.”
“Most worthy Vice-Chancellor and the whole University, I present to you this man (this woman) whom I know to be suitable as much by character as by learning to proceed to the degree of (name of degree); for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole University.”
The graduand’s name is called and they step forward and kneel. Clasping the graduand’s hands, the Vice-Chancellor says:
“Auctoritate mihi commissa admitto te ad gradum (name of degree), in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”
“By the authority committed to me, I admit you to the degree of (name of degree) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Similarly at Oxford:

If you are attending a degree ceremony to confer your MA (or DD, DCL, DM or MCh), you will be required to kneel in front of the VC, who touches each person on the head with a Testament, admitting them ‘In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’.

It’s slightly less elaborate at Nottingham although there is lots of bowing. Indeed students, regardless of instruction, never seem to know whether they are bowing to the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, the crest behind the stage, the platform party or the mace. They will bow to just about anyone.

As with most universities we do have a heavy and finely crafted mace. One day someone might explain why. We also have Marshals of various kinds and levels of seniority and an Esquire Bedell (who looks after the mace). All of these people, despite their strange titles, are key to making the event happen and to ensure that students actually make it to the front, across the stage and back to their seats without mishap.

Gowns can be pretty hot and some of more ceremonial officers’ robes even more so: Nottingham’s chancellor has a train and plenty of very heavy gold trim. The best gown ever saw was I think from a Spanish university. Bright orange with a very chic pillbox hat it looked as if it had been unchanged for 500 years. The 60s were a boom time for gown designers with the new universities at that time looking for a contemporary take on the traditional style (I am told); UEA gowns were designed by Cecil Beaton who clearly had fun with the hoods. There was another spate of gown design excitement in 1992 when all the new universities launched and then began adopting their own appropriately differentiated livery. Gown companies, of which there are only a handful in the UK, have really got this market literally and metaphorically sewn up.

Beyond the gowns there can be some interesting dress issues for graduands and, despite the very sound advice issued to all about the inadvisability of trying out stilettoes for the first time many people do. Despite lots of inappropriate footwear – from flip flops to biker boots – people rarely fall over or off the stage. I do know I’m getting old though because of my irritation at the number of graduands who think casual wear is appropriate for such a ceremony. Attempts to legislate have so far failed.

On graduands
It’s pretty easy to have all your lazy prejudices confirmed about the kind of students following different kinds of courses. For example, you can be pretty sure that at least several archaeology graduands will have long hair and beards. It is inevitable that many art history and psychology students are tall and blonde. Physiotherapy students have the firmest handshakes. Names, particularly but not always of international students, are quite tricky and sexing the graduand can also occasionally be problematic and embarrassing for the Dean if called incorrectly. On the plus side, British graduands often have amusing middle names which no-one has ever heard attributed to them before.

Platform party
These things I have learned:

  • Some members of the platform party seem to find it challenging to stay awake for an hour on a stage. Even when you are clapping a lot (or pretending to clap because you have sore hands from excessive clapping in the previous ceremony).
  • Drinking at lunchtime is generally not conducive to effective working, including at graduation. Just because you only have to walk and clap doesn’t mean you can drink with impunity.
  • Sleeping on stage is still frowned upon.
  • You have to behave. Furtive blackberry use is going to be noticed. Even so, lots of parents and friends of graduands will have lots of pictures of people in funny dress doing odd things on stage.
  • Every university has some really oddly titled courses and we all appear, judging by the small number of graduands on some programmes, to have many more uneconomic courses than we thought. These are not things to raise with members of faculty during the procession.

Honorary graduates
I’ve written before about these and a previous post noted the two broad categories for the recipients of honorary degrees. Although there are a few borderlines, by and large I think it’s still the case that you can divide the worthy holders of honoraries into serious or celebrities. Another post on last year’s round of awards noted the wide range of celebrities who have collected honoraries, from Donald Sinden to Pam St Clement. An even earlier piece noted the success of some individuals in accumulating large numbers of honorary awards (although Kermit has still only got the one degree as far as I can tell). It’s all good fun although can get messy if you decide, as Edinburgh did in the case of Robert Mugabe, that the recipient is not perhaps as worthy as he once was and ask for your degree back.

Recipients of honorary degrees, or in the US where famous individuals are invited there just for this purpose, normally deliver an address to inspire and uplift the new graduates. There are thousands of US commencement speeches on you tube and many lists of the best including this rather good one.

One recent and very good one from the University of Nottingham is an address by author Jon McGregor who advises graduates to “get lost”:

Forward not back

Graduation is still a major rite of passage. It remains one of the most wonderful events in the university calendar and, for all concerned it is generally a positive and forward looking event. Everyone is thinking about future work or study or other plans but also with fond reflection of their time at university. There is an over-riding sense of optimism even in the most difficult economic circumstances. It’s a bit like having the Olympics in your patch every year.

Rich celebrations

Two ceremonies to celebrate the achievements of Dr Tony Rich

I was privileged to attend two ceremonies in February to celebrate the achievements of Tony Rich, formerly Registrar and Secretary at the University of Essex and a mentor to me for nearly 20 years. The first event was the naming of a new teaching centre at the University:

The Tony Rich Teaching Centre

Entirely appropriate given Tony’s passionate commitment to teaching and learning. The naming was followed by a wonderful ceremony further celebrating his life and work and culminating in the award of an Honorary Doctorate.

Honorary degree award

It was a really special and poingnant event and great to see such a big turnout including many former colleagues from Essex, friends and family, a number of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars and lots of people from the Colchester and the region.

As another attendee pointed out to me, universities really do this kind of event extremely well. It had just the right mix of formality, seriousness and pomp combined with informality and personal touches.

The oration paid testament not only to Tony’s career and particularly his 12 years at Essex where he had led and contributed to significant change but also his major contribution to the educational, cultural and sporting life of the town, county and region over many years. It was an outstanding list of achievements.

Among those present was Jonathan Nicholls who is raising money for the University of Bristol’s Cancer Research Fund in honour of Tony:

The London Marathon will take on an extra-special meaning for one Bristol alumnus as he aims to complete the gruelling 26 mile course in honour of the University of Bristol’s recently retired Registrar Dr Tony Rich, who is battling the disease.

Dr Jonathan Nicholls (BA 1978) has already raised nearly £10,000 in sponsorship for his efforts, which were prompted by the heartbreaking diagnosis that his close friend Dr Rich has incurable cancer.

Dr Nicholls, who works as Cambridge University’s Registrary, will be joining seven other Bristol alumni runners who are raising money for Bristol University’s Cancer Research Fund, which supports vital research into cancer prevention and treatment.

He and Dr Rich first met as administrators at the University of Warwick in the 1980s and have been close friends ever since.

Dr Rich started work as Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Bristol at the end of the 2010/11 academic year, having previously worked as the Registrar and Secretary of the University of Essex since 1999, but retired recently due to ill health.

He is now asking friends and colleagues to support Dr Nicholls as he prepares to conquer the world-famous marathon on 22 April.

Jonathan’s sponsorship page is here. Do please support him.

Overall a wonderful event celebrating an outstanding individual.

Honorary degree anyone?

More graduation fun

The Guardian invites us to consider this year’s honorary degree recipients:

It’s about this time of year that academics start digging out their robes and dusting off their mortar boards, as thousands of students prepare to receive their degrees at graduation ceremonies across the country. Accompanying them will be a hand-selected elite deemed worthy enough to obtain an honorary degree.

This year’s crop of honorary grads is a diverse group, from True Blood star Alexander Skarsgård, who receives his from Leeds Metropolitan University having studied there for six months before dropping out, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson who’s picked up an honorary doctorate for his contribution to music from Queen Mary’s University in London and Jarvis Cocker, who picked one up from his Alma Mater Central Saint Martins. Even the bloke behind the meerkat adverts, Darren Walsh, got one from the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham.

As if that weren’t enough there are many others this year:

Jennifer Saunders – Edge Hill
Jeff Beck – Sussex
Kenny Dalglish – Ulster
Fiona Phillips – Cardiff
Lee Child – DMU
Patrick Stewart – UEA
Ray Clemence – Lincoln
Donald Sinden – Kent
John Barrowman – RSAMD
Armando Ianucci – Glasgow
Duffy – Bangor
Roger Black – Surrey
Jon Snow – Liverpool

For many of these celebs, this is their first experience of picking up an honorary. Bus as noted in an earlier post on this topic, some people have more than others. And Desmond Tutu, collecting an honorary degree from the University of Leicester this month, has around 50 of them.

Some other recent(ish) recipients of note:

Kim Cattrall – Liverpool JMU
James May – Lancaster
Omar Sharif – Hull
Orlando Bloom – Kent
Ken Dodd – Liverpool Hope
Jack Dee – Winchester
Alan Shearer – Newcastle
Pam St Clement – Plymouth

It’s a star-studded collection. Sadly no place for the Chuckle Brothers this year though.

Another view on Honorary Degrees

Another view on Honorary Degrees

Following an earlier post, here we have a slightly different take, this time from the Daily Mail:

Degree day at a university in 21st-century Britain…’And our honorary doctorates this year,’ he intones, ‘go to . . .’ And the crowd tenses, expecting the name of some international polymath with numerous and learned achievements to his credit. Who will it be? Internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee? Pianist Alfred Brendel? Mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah? Dream on.

‘Our honorary doctorates this year go to . . . Mr Dickie Bird, Mr Murray Walker, Miss Cilla Black and Monsieur Raymond Blanc.’

With which the whole edifice of university intellectualism collapses like a bouncy castle the moment its electric blower has been switched off at a kiddies’ birthday party. Honorary doctorates could be the most prized academic possessions, but in our egalitarianised education system their potency has been trashed.

Whilst it is something of an overstatement to suggest that Honorary Degrees have ever been central to the academic standing of universities, celebrities are certainly more frequent recipients than they used to be. Not sure that this is a manifestation of some form of misplaced egalitarianism though. Nor is the ‘solution’ to make Simon Cowell Secretary of State.

via X Factor’s Simon Cowell for Secretary of State for Education?.

See also recent podcast on this topic.

How many Honorary Degrees?

An honourable business for the President and the frog?

There has been a bit of controversy recently about Barack Obama receiving an Honorary Degree from Notre Dame University and not receiving one from Arizona State.

It’s not entirely clear how many Honorary Degrees the President does have but it certainly isn’t as many as Theodore Hesburgh, formerly President of Notre Dame. He has 150.kermit-barack

According to the Chronicle, Hesburgh is not the only one to achieve such a collection:

His closest competitor for the title of King of Honorary Doctorates is an actual king: Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. In 1997, the king claimed to have 136 honorary degrees, surpassing Father Hesburgh’s total at the time. For his part, Father Hesburgh isn’t particularly impressed with the king. “His degrees are from high schools and dinky little places in Thailand,” says the Roman Catholic priest. He adds, “Thailand is a land of fantasy.” The king of Thailand is, in his own way, a man of genuine accomplishment. He is, after all, the world’s longest-reigning monarch. But sometimes honorary degrees are bestowed upon people whose accomplishments are slightly less stellar. Mike Tyson, Kermit the Frog, and Bruce Willis have all been given honorary degrees. Mike Tyson was a great boxer, Kermit is a hero to millions of kids, and Bruce Willis has been in some action movies — but they’re not exactly Father Hesburgh.

Previously noted here the Italian stance on Honorary Degrees. Perhaps there should be a worldwide cap on numbers or a constraint on awarding Honorary Degrees to muppets? Or better still, just don’t award them at all like LSE, MIT, Cornell and Stanford?

Help from Mum and Dad

BBC Education has a report on this wonderful phenomenon:

Parents are paying hundreds of pounds for degree-course essays for their children studying at university, claims an essay-writing service.

The essay company,, says that 78% of student customers buying essays are using their parents’ money. “The students will talk about the essay they want and then they put their parents on the phone to give the credit card details,” says a spokesman. The company says these are “model essays” and not for plagiarism.

Of course not. Why would anyone pay for a model answer and then plagiarise it?

This company has been doing a lot to tout its business locally too.

And it appears that if your parents were really flush, they could pay £40k for a PhD thesis. All perfectly reasonable.

Italy stops Honorary Degree awards

Italian HE Minister bans honoraries shock

The Italian HE minister has banned the award of honarary degrees according to the Chronicle, claiming that celebrity recipients bring dishonour.


Citing the need to protect the “prestige” of Italy’s university system, the country’s higher-education minister, Fabio Mussi, ordered its 66 public universities on Wednesday to stop granting honorary degrees for the rest of the year.

The move followed last week’s controversy over the University of Turin’s decision to award an honorary bachelor’s degree in economics to Jonella Ligresti, 40, who is chairwoman of one of Italy’s largest insurance companies, a family business, but who was previously known as a medal winner in equestrian events. The university acted over the objections of Mr. Mussi, who by law must sign off on all such degrees before they can be granted. In recent years, Italian universities have honored an increasing number of celebrities with debatable academic achievements, including the champion motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi

These two awards sound a little off-beam perhaps but my guess is that similar honours wouldn’t look totally out of place in a UK context provided that there was some connection with the institution. What is very alien though is the notion of the HE Minister over-ruling institutional autonomy in the award of degrees, even honorary ones.