Leader: University own goals

September 24, 2004

Most honorary degrees are uncontroversial, awarded as they are to eminent academics or figures who have a longstanding association with a university.

But recent months have seen a rash of awards that have had critics questioning the whole concept. The latest of these came at half-time in the Premiership football match between Norwich City and Aston Villa last Saturday, when fans must have been bemused to find a party of middle-aged men in academic regalia joining the substitutes on the pitch. The entire Norwich club was presented with an honorary degree from the University of East Anglia. At least there was a local connection, unlike Hull University's doctorate for Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee, who pronounced that Hull "seemed like a nice city" when he collected his award in July.

No doubt graduands welcome celebrities brightening up otherwise stodgy ceremonies, and universities may gain a little extra publicity. But institutions should beware of devaluing real degrees by honouring high-profile but inappropriate individuals, let alone football clubs.

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