Students could be asked to wear gowns and mortarboards on campus in plans by education secretary Michael Gove to “restore rigour” to higher education, the Times Higher Education has learned.
According to a leaked memo seen by THE, the minister is looking at introducing the strict dress code across all universities over concerns over the “scruffy” clothes worn on campus.
The new sartorial standards are believed to be the first in a series of measures being considered by Mr Gove if he succeeds in his bid to bring the sector under his department after next year’s general election.
It is hoped the new dress code will usher in “a return to the golden age of higher education – the 19th century”, the memo says.
“Universities are always being told to modernise, but maybe we need to look back to some of the traditions that made British universities great,” the memo advises.
“You still see gowns worn in our Oxbridge colleges, which do well academically, so why shouldn’t other universities follow that trend,” it adds.
However, some have said the new dress code idea is too prescriptive, particularly for final-year male students who will be required to wear formal black tie attire at dinner and wheel around a bicycle between lectures.
Some vice-chancellors are believed to have questioned the move on the grounds of institutional autonomy, but their appeals have been rebutted.
“Kim Jong-un has just ordered all male students to have the same haircut – his own – so wearing a gown isn’t really much to ask in comparison to that,” said one Whitehall insider.
“In fact, we haven’t heard any complaints from North Korean students, so a similar move might prove quite popular here.”
Some leading higher education experts have already backed the move, saying it may help to increase overseas recruitment.
“Everyone loves the Harry Potter films and these gowns might give our campuses an air of Hogwarts, which is bound to pull in a few more students,” said Joanna King, head of the Institute for Pedagogic Inquiries.
However, some have questioned some of the other Oxbridge-inspired proposals apparently drafted by Mr Gove.
The mandatory introduction of punting may prove impractical, said one vice-chancellor, who did not want to be named.
“Many rivers near universities are just not suited to this type of leisure activity,” he said. “The ornamental lakes on campuses are probably not safe either.”