Laurie Taylor

March 30, 2001

QAA will inspect honorary degrees
Phil Butley

The QAA is to inspect the quality of honorary degrees.

In a shock announcement last week, the chief executive of the QAA, John Rankall, introduced a document containing detailed plans for a quality review of existing honorary degree holders. All current holders would be rated on a 24-point scale.

The QAA document - Assessing Honorary Degrees - proposes that a team of under-qualified reviewers would visit universities at regular intervals in order to establish that the holders of existing honorary doctorates continued to meet the standards that warranted their initial appointment. Those universities with average honorary doctorate scores below 20 points would be warned as to their future conduct, and in special circumstances might have their honorary degree-awarding powers withdrawn.

An appendix to the document cites several examples of current appointments that raise serious questions of quality assurance. These include the 1996 award by Uttoxeter University of an honorary doctorate to a Mr Chris Evans for "services to popular entertainment".

The document notes that: "This honorary doctorate is still in force despite evidence that the number of successful television appearances made by Mr Evans during the past five years has dramatically declined. Although any final decision would depend upon a detailed investigation into a wide range of other critical factors, there would appear to be prima facie grounds for thinking that a downward re-assessment of Mr Evans would now be appropriate."

Other current honorary degree holders cited in the appendix as possible candidates for quality re-assessment include Jeremy Beadle, Alan Shearer, Noel Edmunds, Hale and Pace, Margaret Thatcher, Ted Rogers, the Hinduja brothers, Harriet Harman and Arthur Scargill.

When questioned about the need for this further extension of quality assurance, Mr Rankall pointed out that it was entirely in line with his agency's continued commitment to inventing time-wasting and bureaucratic procedures that bore no relationship whatsoever to genuine academic standards.

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