You need a Bob or two to graduate

August 20, 2004

Chris Johnston looks at the cost of champagne and celebrity-filled ceremonies.

As students look forward to graduating, they may be forgiven for thinking that their days of racking up debt are approaching an end. But there is one pricey sting in the tail - the bill for the graduation ceremony.

And it is not just the costs of hiring the gown, mortar board and hood, the expense of the family travelling to the university or having to stump up for the professional graduation photographs.

These days, most universities also charge students and their parents a fee for the privilege of attending their own graduation.

A straw poll by The Times Higher found surprising variations between universities in terms of what they charge graduands and their guests and what those attending the ceremonies get for their money.

Scottish universities, particularly the ancient ones, tended to have the highest graduation fees.

All students who wish to graduate from any of Scotland's four ancient universities must pay a fee to register with the General Council, a governing body for the ancient universities composed of graduates.

This accounts for the relatively high charges levied by those institutions, but many Scottish universities tend to include two or more free tickets for parents, so represent better value than might at first appear.

Glasgow University charges each graduand a £48 fee. The price includes two tickets for guests to attend the ceremonies, which are held on campus.

Aberdeen University charges a £40 administration fee, which helps to cover all the costs connected with the ceremony, even down to the fresh flowers. This fee includes two tickets. But - at the risk of reinforcing stereotypes of Aberdonian parsimony - a university spokeswoman confirmed that the champagne and strawberries cost extra.

Scotland's oldest university, St Andrews, charges a £43 registration fee, which guarantees graduates lifetime membership of the council. The university, which is famous as the alma mater of Prince William, also throws a graduation garden party, which is optional, with tickets costing £10.50, covering food, drink, marquees and staff.

The charge at Edinburgh and Dundee universities is £30. Of the new universities, Robert Gordon University charges a £40 fee and Glasgow Caledonian asks students to pay £30 to attend the ceremony.

The fees at English universities tend to be lower, with some charging nothing at all but, unlike the Scottish universities that throw in two free tickets, there is a tendency to charge guests if they wish to attend ceremonies.

At De Montfort University there is no charge for graduands but guest tickets cost £10, although this price includes a light buffet lunch on campus.

At Brighton University, relatives and friends can expect to have to find £12 each to attend one of its graduation ceremonies. A spokeswoman said the fee helped cover the "substantial" costs involved.

"Like many other newer universities, we are not endowed with large ceremonial spaces in which to conduct these important events and, inevitably, the rental on such spaces in the market is high.

"Guests and graduands are also invited for a free glass of champagne or orange juice after the ceremonies," she said.

Sheffield Hallam University charges each graduand £20 to cover administration and the cost of hiring a venue, but the price includes four tickets for family and friends. The downside is that the optional graduation reception costs between £5 and £9.50 a head.

London undergraduates pay a high price for many things, not least accommodation, and many also find that their graduation ceremony comes at a price.

The London School of Economics does not charge students, but guests must pay £15 each. But at least this price includes a strawberries and cream and bucks fizz reception.

The school said that the charge was necessary to cover costs, not least the hiring of the nearby Peacock Theatre in which graduations are held.

Imperial College London graduates pay nothing, but their guests must pay £26 each for a ticket. This is on top of travel costs to and from the capital, and possibly overnight accommodation.

The college argued that this was pretty good value, as the graduation ceremony is held in the Royal Albert Hall and includes a champagne and canape reception.

A spokeswoman said: "It is a very special occasion in a very special venue and it is a good day out all round."

But the awards for best value must go to those universities that manage to organise impressive graduation ceremonies without asking for a penny from graduands or their guests.

Lincoln, Keele, Coventry, Reading and Oxford Brookes universities are among those that charge nothing.

Lincoln University does not charge graduands and their guests to attend the graduation ceremony, but still manages to hire Lincoln Cathedral as one of its graduation venues and holds a drinks reception afterwards.

A spokesman said: "Our strategy is to encourage as many students as possible to attend their graduation, so we try to keep costs down. It also reflects the fact that 97 per cent of our students are state-school pupils, many of whom are from less well-off backgrounds."

Some universities like to have a celebrity, upon whom an honorary degree is being bestowed, attend the graduation ceremonies to liven the ceremony up and, perhaps, help justify graduation charges. Celebrities also generate a fair amount of free publicity for universities.

This year's crop of celebrities included musician Bob Dylan at St Andrews, where graduation ceremonies are free for graduands and parents.

Author J. K. Rowling got hers from Edinburgh; football referee Pierluigi Collina got his from Hull University; Titanic film director James Cameron received a degree from Southampton University; and Dundee conferred honorary degrees on cancer sufferer Jane Tomlinson and BBC political editor Andrew Marr.

Meanwhile, the University of East Anglia did not think Live Aid organiser Sir Bob Geldof's 11 honorary degrees were enough, so last month gave him another one.

Sir Bob accepted and quipped that he was always delighted to accept honorary qualifications because "I didn't get a bloody thing from school".

YOUR FINAL BILL...

The bill for graduation (excluding student loans and tuition fees)

Graduation fee for parents and one sibling £60
Gown hire £33
Photography £100
Celebratory family meal £120
Travel there and back for parents, petrol and parking £50
Congratulatory bung from mum or dad to fund farewell night out with classmates £50
Graduation merchandise, one bottle of graduation Champagne £30
Graduation merchandise, "class of 2004" T-shirt £15
Total cost £458 Related story
Fizzy day falls flat with the price tag
Why I... think that graduation ceremonies could do with some spicing up

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