Serious or Celeb? More Honorary Degrees

More Honorary Degree diversions

Detailed investigation of Honorary Degrees down the years has led me to a simple conclusion – almost all recipients fall clearly into one of two categories: they are either serious or celeb. Needless to say, the former don’t get much press coverage so you could be forgiven for thinking that the 90% of recipients who are huge achievers in their field, who may be Nobel prize winners or tremendously distinguished artists or scientists, simply don’t exist because they aren’t, well, just celebrities. Indeed this is what the papers now seem to suggest as they really just don’t get it.

The Independent recently carried a piece in which seemed to misunderstand the honorary element of honorary degrees. This echoes a piece several years ago in the Daily Mail which, without a trace of irony, bemoaned the debasing of the educational currency of honorary degrees as evidenced by the increase in the involvement of celebrities.

So, although there are a few borderlines, by and large I think you can divide the worthy holders of honoraries into serious or celeb. And, having criticised the media for focusing exclusively on the latter, I am going to do exactly the same, because it’s more fun.

A previous 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 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).

Anyway, the cream of this year’s crop is as follows. You have to say that most of them you would regard as celebrity awards rather than serious. But I am open to challenge on that:

Fabrice Muamba – University of Bolton

Susan Boyle – Queen Margaret University

Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter films) – Leeds Met

June Spencer (Peggy Archer) – here at University of Nottingham

Jools Holland – University of Kent

Walter Smith (former Rangers manager) – Glasgow Caledonian University

 Hilary Devey (Dragons’ Den star) – University Bolton

Michael Eavis – University of Creative Arts (presumably not just for services to the dairy industry)

Ann Widdicome waltzed along to the University of Birmingham

Barbara Dickson – Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Steve Heighway (former Liverpool footballer) – Warwick

Johnny Marr – Salford (actually debatable – definitely celeb but also musical genius)

So, serious or celeb? You decide.

One of the best awards this year though must be to Elbow singer Guy Garvey who was made an honorary Doctor of Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University:

The Bury-born singer was made an honorary Doctor of Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University at a graduation ceremony for the Faculty of Art and Design.

He told the audience that the award means a lot to him and dedicated it to his bandmates, his family and girlfriend, novelist Emma Unsworth.

Guy said: “Because of the band, none of us went to University – well, Pete did a term at Salford until we spent his grant – so this means a lot to me.”

And to finish off, my favourite piece in which Stella McCartney and Lulu Guinness get great coverage here of their recent awards from the University of the Arts London. Lulu Guinness said. “I did not have a formal training in handbag design, so this makes this extra special.”

Roll on next year.

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Now students can study football

I’ve posted before on various degree courses which sound a bit, well, bonkers. The Daily Mail loves this stuff and gets very excited when something like a degree in footy comes along:

The finer points of the offside rule are not on the curriculum.

But a Championship club is offering its expertise in other aspects of the beautiful game by launching a university degree in football.

new student in Burnley

Burnley student


Burnley FC will enrol undergraduates on a three-year Bachelor of Arts (Honours) course with lectures to be held in classrooms overlooking the pitch in its stadium.

The club is the first to offer a full honours degree in football and is aiming to add income from the £3,200-a-year course to money from ticket sales and merchandise.

Sounds pretty rigorous to me. As I’m sure the Mail would agree.

Consumer crackdown on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses

“Consumer crackdown on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses by showing future prospects”

Excited Daily Mail story on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses:

Degree courses will be rated for teaching quality, salary prospects, tuition time and value for money under plans to unleash ‘consumer power’ on universities.

Poor quality ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses will be exposed on a website – similar to those used to select car insurance or electricity – allowing potential students to compare them.

The 16 statistics students most want to know about courses before making their applications were revealed in a report published yesterday by England’s higher education funding quango.

They include the proportion of graduates employed in professional or managerial jobs, their average salary, the quality of teaching on the course, weekly hours of teaching time and the quality of library and IT facilities.

All measures should be published ‘as a minimum’ for each degree course in the country in a web-based format that will allow comparisons, the report said.

A range of very different courses is helpfully compared:

Presumably the Mail expects that some of these courses would disappear if potential students were aware of this data.

The report in question, Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education, a report to HEFCE by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University, is available from HEFCE and is somewhat more sober than the Mail article would suggest.

It lists the top items of information potential students would wish to know about a university or course:

(The final two not listed above are the ‘Proportions of students at the university satisfied or very satisfied with the IT facilities’ and the ‘Maximum household income for eligibility for a bursary’.)

Essentially, it is argued that this data needs to be published on a consistent basis for every institution and course and this will help inform decision making. But all of the information is available at present, in one way or another, albeit not always in the most accessible form. And it seems, according to the HEFCE report, that prospective students, whilst they would like to have the data, simply aren’t prepared to look for it:

Less than half the sample had tried to look for 11 out of the 16 most highly ranked items. This is partly explained by participants’ estimate of the usefulness of the information. Those who rated the information ‘very useful’ were much more likely to look for it. However, a surprisingly large proportion (between a quarter and a half) of participants who rated items ‘very useful’ reported that they had not tried to find the information. A maximum of two-thirds of these reported that they had tried to look for information on student satisfaction and employability data. One possible explanation is that prospective students were unaware that these data might be accessible.

Another possible explanation is that the demand for information, and the need for a ‘consumer crackdown’ is somewhat overstated.