Political control gone wild

I am not a fan of honorary doctorates but I do recognise that all universities confer them for various reasons. The Australian in reporting that Curtin University wants to confer an honorary on Rosmah Mansor – wife of the Malaysian prime minister. Now giving awards to political figures (and even their spouses) is always going to be fraught. So it is in this instance. Okay, whatever.

The government regulator TEQSA has taken it upon itself to intervene.

A spokesman for TEQSA said the agency had “considered this matter and will be taking it into account in its ongoing monitoring of this provider”.

He said awards that were not part of the Australian Qualifications Framework were “covered under the qualification standards” and TEQSA considered honorary doctorates fell into this category.

“As such, TEQSA will take (honorary doctorates) into consideration as part of our ongoing monitoring,” he said.

So let’s understand what is happening here. A government agency will determine whether awarding an honorary doctorate to a political figure is appropriate? That same government agency thinks that awarding a non-earned degree impacts on the standards that underpin the earned degrees? If so, it is quite clear that TEQSA have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of how universities operate. None.

I have argued before that TEQSA was a waste of money but I think political interference by a government agency at this level is very problematic. (No doubt some will ask about my views of the Brendan Nelson veto over some ARC projects – different situation.)

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10 Responses to Political control gone wild

  1. C.L.

    Honorary doctorates are especially stupid in Australia where they’re routinely given to people – celebrities and sportsmen etc – for the sole purpose of attracting PR attention for the institution.

    The Australian Catholic University’s list of recipients, for example, includes Tim Flannery and purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt.

  2. JamesK

    The Australian Catholic University’s list of recipients, for example, includes Tim Flannery and purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt

    Yes but isn’t Jeff the thoughtful Wiggle?

  3. C.L.

    I think he’s the sleepy one.

  4. Peter Patton


    How do academics and scholars accept such an Orwellian outfit like TESQA? Just more gold-collared jobs for Labor’s base of upper middle class oligarchs. Do the luvvie Behrendt-Lavarches receive any of the tribute from this particular petty-cash tim?

    It should be an individual university’s discretion to hand out ‘honorary’ awrds. Mind you, I once attended a public talk, given by

    Professor Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue

    Quite an achievement for someone whose educational achievements amount to the award of the Year 10 Intermediate Certificate from Unley High School in Adelaide!

  5. Sinclair Davidson

    The same reason why anyone accepts regulation. Mind you I imagine many academics think government regulation is good.

  6. Mike a.

    I always find the granting of these degrees to politicians a bit weird. One can’t help admire the view of Alfred Deakin who when prime minster decline the offer of honourary degrees from Both Oxford and Cambridge on he grounds that he gelt he had made no contribution to either the arts or science.

  7. Splatacrobat

    Even Shane Warne has an Honorary doctorate from the Southampton Solent University.
    I’m still waiting for my call up for research over 30 years into BBQology.

  8. Mookster

    The same reason why anyone accepts regulation. Mind you I imagine many academics think government regulation is good.

    I had surreal discussions recently with a university planning person, and a deputy Vice-Chancellor, about TEQSA and regulation, about the constant need to always weigh up the PR benefits of each smidge of additional regulation against the mostly intangible costs – in financial terms and in terms of each additional slice of freedom foregone. The vacant response from each of these may be no surprise to some, but I may as well have been speaking Sumerian, or Fortran.

    At the university I work at, the general consensus (at least in the central bureaucracy) is to welcome our new insect overlords.

  9. If I should agree with any sort of honorary degree-awarding, it would be to a person who has demonstrated long-standing practical performance in the field – e.g. to a politician who has spent decades of their life concentrating on constitutional reform, an honorary degree in constitutional law; to a musician of a Beatle’s calibre, an honorary degree in music, and so forth.

    Such degrees should IMO be issued by a university of which the recipient is either a born or a long-naturalised citizen, and not to a foreign national.

  10. On my reading of the rules, TEQSA has the power to determine whether this type of degree should be awarded at all. But they don’t have the power to determine who should get one.

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