The retiring vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University used his farewell lecture to mount a powerful defence of so-called Mickey Mouse degree courses, claiming that some of the more popular TV soap operas offer as much insight into modern society as the works of Charles Dickens did in Victorian times.
Leslie Wagner argued that media studies were the 21st-century equivalent of English-literature courses of previous centuries. "Through a rigorous analysis and examination of our media, we are able to understand better our cultural and social development.
"Can anyone who has read or watched our media in the past month or two deny that an in-depth study of the branding of David Beckham might be of value to business and social science students?" Professor Wagner posed another question: "Do not series such as EastEnders and Coronation Street provide an insight into modern personal relations and cultural values that Jane Austen and Charles Dickens provided in the 19th century?"
Delivering a lecture titled "More means better - the 40-year war in higher education", he said that the core of the more-means-worse argument was not only out of date but a caricature of higher education, which it viewed as consisting exclusively of three-year full-time honours graduates.
The "doom mongers" were now calling for more plumbers instead of graduates, he said. "We should remember that today 60 per cent of young people still do not go on to higher education. Many are underachieving at school. If we raised their level of school achievement, we could supply all the plumbers we needed without diverting anyone from higher education."