Studying for a university degree full time, let alone a Master’s Degree or PhD is expensive, time-consuming and hard work. So, is it fair that celebrities are given honorary degrees without going through the process?In the late 1470s, the first honorary degree was awarded by Oxford University. This was awarded to Lionel Woodville, the brother in law of Edward IV.Who gets honorary degrees and why?Honorary degrees have been awarded to many, many celebrities. For example Danni Minogue received one for her ‘outstanding contribution to the entertainment industry’ and her sister Kylie has one for promoting awareness of breast cancer and Ed Sheeran has just received one for outstanding contribution to music.Whilst most of us probably agree that these celebrities have kept many entertained and we all would agree that Kylie battling breast cancer is a big deal, as it is for anyone – does this really justify bestowing on them an academic qualification for which they simply haven’t studied?It’s all very well arguing that there’s an awful lot about the music industry that can only be learned in the field, but it’s hardly equivalent to undertaking and writing a 200 page neurological study on music and vibroacoustic stimulation in people with Rett syndrome.Granted, honorary degrees are not seen in the same way as those earned by students, and the practice of calling oneself Dr is discouraged. However, it is not forbidden.What message does it send?Some have argued that awarding honorary degrees to celebrities promotes a positive message to young people. For example the deputy vice chancellor of UEL has argued that “people who enjoy celebrity status have usually worked very hard to achieve their success” and that this is a good message to spread. Others however, would argue that yes, celebrities have worked hard and deserve their success, but aren’t they getting that already…and all of the wealth that comes with it?It’s one thing to say that you don’t need to go to university to have a successful and rewarding career but it’s quite another to say that you don’t need to study to get an academic qualification.Studying full time at university is costly (many students struggle to make ends meet) and a lot of hard work and when you graduate, you can be sure that you have both earned and paid for it – but you may be sharing your ceremony with someone who put simply hasn’t and many will say that this practice just isn’t right.
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