It's a big day, and it keeps getting bigger

July 23, 2009

Graduation ceremonies proliferate as student numbers and interest rises. Ciaran Jones reports

The number of graduation ceremonies held by universities has rocketed as the expansion of higher education has led to more graduands donning the cap and gown than ever before.

A Times Higher Education poll has found that this year, five institutions will put on more than 40 ceremonies, and one - the University of Manchester - will have more than 50.

Manchester, which has 35,000 students, attributed the number to its status as "the UK's largest single-site university", but there is little uniformity of approach across the sector.

For example, the University of Brighton, which has 20,000 students, will hold just 12 ceremonies - making it one of at least 39 universities with ten or more each year.

Several of the institutions with numerous ceremonies said that numbers were rising because institutions were increasingly holding them on campus, where venues are often smaller.

They argued that this was a positive development, as such events are more intimate, with the interminably long ceremonies of popular perception becoming a thing of the past.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that students and their families are more keen on turning graduation into a special event than has been the case in the past.

Manchester said that the number of ceremonies it held had increased in line with the proportion of people who attend: this year it expects 80 per cent of eligible graduands to turn up, compared with just 65 per cent a decade ago.

Despite this shift, Liesl Elder, director of development at the University of Edinburgh, said graduation ceremonies were not a major factor in universities' fundraising strategies.

Alumni contribute to their alma maters because of the value of their degrees, not because of a big send-off, she said.

None of the institutions questioned would reveal the costs incurred as a result of the ceremonies, but the University and College Union said it was "looking forward to examining the details when they become available".

InstitutionDegree ceremonies each year
University of Manchester53
University of Leeds45
University of Southampton44
University of Huddersfield41
Newcastle University41
NB: Includes figures for affiliated ceremonies


The growing popularity of the honorary degree has helped to swell the numbers of Britain's graduation ceremonies.

This year, the great and the good to be honoured include Gary Lineker, the former England footballer, who has scooped his third honorary degree, this time from De Montfort University.

He said he felt "slightly fraudulent" as he picked it up, pointing out that he "left school as quickly as I could at 16".

Another multiple winner is Orla Guerin, the BBC journalist, who received an honorary doctorate for services to journalism from the University of Ulster on 3 July, and the same award from Queen's University Belfast three days later.

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