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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Honorary Degrees and all that

Earlier this week I accused the University College of Swansea of "dumbing down" after it announced the imminent closure of Wales' only stand-alone Philosophy Department and four other subjects including chemistry. The press release can be found elsewhere on this site.

It seems to me that this must be a matter of great concern for the Assembly Government as, despite the growth in other departments, the range of educational provision in Swansea is being severely limited, whilst a department that has helped to put the College on the map during a tumultuous thirty years is going. I suppose that the Philosophy Department has brought the authorities in Swansea University a lot of grief and many of them will be glad to see the back of it.

What has surprised me is that the Students' Union has been very muted in its criticism of the decision to close these five departments down whilst the Assembly Government has so far been silent. Although clearly there is no connection between the two events it was with astonishment that I read in this morning's Western Mail that the Swansea West AM and Government Minister for Economic Development and Transport, Andrew Davies, is to be awarded an honorary fellowship by the University.

I have never been comfortable with honorary degrees and fellowships however, I do recognise that they can be used to recognise significant achievement, particularly in an academic field. I do not dispute that Andrew Davies has achieved a lot, however he is a serving Government Minister whose portfolio impinges significantly on the work of the University, not least in the development of the digital technium on campus that has attracted substantial public funding. As a Minister, he will also clearly have a view on the University's decision to close down five academic departments.

In the circumstances I believe that he would be advised to think very carefully about proceeding to accept this award. Whilst Mr. Davies' integrity is not in doubt, it does seem to me to be inappropriate that a serving Government Minister with responsibilities that affect the future of the University should receive such an honorary fellowship whilst he remains in post. Equally it seems to me to be inappropriate that the University has offered it to him at this stage.

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