Leader: Mickey Mouse is a complex beast

August 22, 2003

At long last someone has had the courage to identify some "Mickey Mouse" courses. It might have been stretching a point to describe the Conservatives' list of unlikely sounding degrees as research, but at least it provided the basis for informed discussion. Actually, a little more research might have shortened the list and made it rather more informed because most of those named and shamed are not honours degrees at all. Several seem to fit the Tories' preferred model of two-year courses taught in further education colleges.

Take "floristry" at Central Lancashire University, for example. No such degree is offered, but the university does validate a Higher National Diploma in commercial floral design at nearby Myerscough College. Firmly based in the further education sector, Myerscough describes itself as one of Britain's oldest colleges for land-based studies, attracting overseas students as well as Lancastrians to a range of mainly sub-degree courses in agriculture, leisure and tourism. Central Lancashire is also fingered for the even more intriguing "resort representative studies" - in reality another HND, this time in tourism and taught at Burnley College.

Bournemouth University does offer a degree in sports management specialising in golf, but "greenkeeping" turns out to be a foundation degree in turfgrass science and technology. There are modules about environmental protection and event organisation in the two-year course, as well as others on management and rootzone technology. No doubt greenkeepers down the years have learnt much of this on the job, but there is a market for this qualification and no pretence that it is an academic discipline on a par with philosophy. Close scrutiny of the Tories' list shows why Margaret Hodge (not normally one for unnecessary discretion) refused to name courses in her frequent tirades against "Mickey Mouse degrees" as higher education minister. A minority of the 11 subjects culled from clearing lists are being offered at full degree level, and most of them are specialisms in broader programmes. They may sound amusing, but what is Grimsby College supposed to be teaching if not an engineering HND in refrigeration and air conditioning? If the list proves anything, it is that a Conservative government would have a harder time than it thinks in identifying the courses that would have to close to fulfil the party's higher education promises.

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