Honorary Doctorates: Only the famous faces benefit

Honorary doctorates only serve to undermine the hard-working students who earn them.

By Karis Pearson

Hillary Clinton is a household name known, rather unfairly, as 42nd President Bill Clinton’s First Lady. Clinton’s resume is loaded with achievements and distinguishing titles such as a graduate of Yale Law School, former US Senator and Secretary of State and of course the Democratic Party candidate for President in 2016. It is no surprise that Hillary just received another award, this time an honorary doctorate, honouring her for the work she has done promoting the rights of families and children around the world. More surprising is that the doctorate is being awarded by a name known less widely; Swansea University.


This award is creating the latest bit of publicity for Wales as it comes with the announcement that rain or shine (most likely rain) Hillary Clinton will pay a visit to Swansea on October 14th to receive her PhD. What will such a ceremony entail I wonder? Will Swansea University hold an entire graduation ceremony just for her, where Hillary dons a cap and gown and waits alone amongst a sea of empty chairs for her name to be called. Presumably, they will make it as public as possible. It is not a coincidence that Clinton’s visit happens to fall on one of the Universities few open days. As far as publicity ploys go it is quite hard to beat the possibility of bumping into an ex-presidential candidate while trying to find the talk on Chemical Engineering.

As a student I find it frustrating to see famous individuals being handed degrees as if they’re no more than a piece of paper. Is being internationally recognised for what they do not enough? I enrolled in university to attain a degree and make myself more employable in the future. For this reason, I attend my lectures, do my reading and spend a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege. Without denying Clinton’s achievements or the work she has done, I am quite certain she has never been a student of Swansea University, and so what are they doing giving her a degree?

Clinton is by no means the first nor the most ridiculous person to be awarded a degree for sitting through zero lectures and completing zero assignments. Another famous figure to have received an honorary doctorate is Kanye West, who in 2015 was awarded an honorary PhD from the Art Institute of Chicago. Kanye surely had enough credentials when it came to music without inflating his head further with a PhD. The award had no effect on his livelihood whatsoever, it merely demeaned the arduous work of actual students studying for their degrees in the arts. Others to have been honoured include Bill Cosby, Robert Mugabe (both of which have now been publicly revoked) and most absurdly Kermit the Frog. He is a Muppet. Southampton College, what were you thinking?

With over half a million students being accepted to UK universities each year there is a fear felt by myself and I’m sure many undergrads and postgrads alike that our degrees won’t make us stand out in the job market. Honorary doctorates only serve to undermine the hard-working students who earn them.

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