Mickey Mouse list is 'ignorant'

August 22, 2003

Universities defended their courses this week after the Conservative Party embroiled them in a row over "Mickey Mouse" degrees.

A number of universities and courses were named and shamed by the Conservatives who questioned the need to offer degrees in subjects such as "embroidery" at the University of Central England.

In fact, the UCE course is a BA (Hons) in textile design, allowing specialisation in embroidery, which includes study of the history and theory of design.

UCE vice-chancellor Peter Knight said: "I think the Conservatives' comments demonstrate a level of ignorance and bigotry that I thought had long passed."

Taken from a list of courses still available through clearing, other Tory targets included: degrees in "aromatherapy" offered by Anglia Polytechnic, Greenwich and Napier universities. In each case, these are BSc (Hons) degrees in complementary therapies.

Another course highlighted was "hairdressing" at Derby University which is a BSc (Hons) in hairdressing science and retail distribution, including analytical chemistry and an introduction to physics.

David Davies, director of University of Derby College Buxton which runs the degree as well as a foundation degree in hairdressing, said: "The hairdressing industry itself requested degree level provision and that it contained higher levels of knowledge such as science. Derby University is very proud to respond to the needs of industry and employers."

The Conservatives propose scrapping the government's 50 per cent higher education participation target. They say that money saved on expansion would allow a future Tory government to abolish student tuition fees - set to rise to £3,000 in 2006 under government plans - and improve funding for universities. They also plan to look at some existing courses to see whether they warrant degree status.

The party blames the proliferation of degree-level courses on the pressure exerted by government on universities to up student numbers to hit the 50 per cent target. It wants government to "come clean" on what type of courses count towards the target, pointing out that taxpayers pay £5,000 a-year on average for each undergraduate on an arts-based course.

Shadow education secretary Damian Green said: "I am sure all these courses provide useful training for careers. But are they really proper academic degree courses?

"The effect of having a target is twofold. Not only does it devalue vocational qualifications... but it means there will be courses called degrees which simply do not deliver the benefits to individuals that they might expect of a full degree."

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