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Now That’s What I Call an Honorary Graduate §8: playing politics

In the latest in our ongoing series, Paul Greatrix checks out some of the most notable (or infamous) politicians to have been awarded honorary degrees.
This article is more than 6 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Politicians seldom see, or indeed expect, a personal reward for their years of dedicated public service but as has been noted here before they do seem to pick up the occasional honorary degree. For example, former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, now possibly more famous for his dancing on Strictly, turning on the Christmas lights in Norwich and being chairman of Norwich City, waltzed his way to an honorary from UEA. This is just the latest in his collection – he was awarded an Honorary LLD by the University of Nottingham in 2003 and Nottingham Trent honoured him too in 2016.

Former Universities & Science Minister (and now Lord) David Willetts was recognised with a degree from the University of Leicester last year.

Another former Education Secretary, David (now Lord) Blunkett, was honoured by the University of Huddersfield in recognition of his services to government and education.

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, CBE, Shadow Attorney General, was awarded an honorary degree at the University of London School of Advanced Study.

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen collected an Honorary LLD from the National University of Ireland this summer. His was not a straightforward time in office so he may well feel that he had earned it.

The dashing Canadian premier Justin Trudeau, who boasts Scottish ancestry, picked up an honorary from the University of Edinburgh.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker literally caused a riot when he visited Aristotle University to receive an honorary doctorate. It’s fair to say that not everyone in Greece was delighted to see him recognised in this way

Other notable awards include:

Wholly uncontroversial

But not all honorary degree awards are quite so straightforward:

There were mixed views to say the least at the decision of the University of Debrecen to honour the Russian President, following the news that it was to play a leading role in a new Russian-funded nuclear power plant, training engineers and conducting research projects.

Wholly uncontroversially President Donald Trump collected an honorary from Liberty University. That will help to make up for the one which Robert Gordon University revoked.

In Russia, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations awarded an honorary to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

In late 2016 Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi made a nostalgic trip back to Kyoto University, where she studied briefly in the mid-1980s, to collect an honorary degree. She received an honorary doctorate for her “commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights” – something which is looking increasingly open to debate these days.

And most recently according to the Sunday Times it looks like there has been some disagreement around an honorary degree offer previously made by Sheffield Hallam University to Lord Adonis.

So a healthy batch of awards there. It’s possible there might be fewer in the year ahead given the treatment vice-chancellors and universities are currently enjoying at the hands of some politicians.

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