Scottish universities spend thousands on honorary degrees

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By Clare Carswell

SCOTTISH Universities have shelled out £100,000 for celebrities and other notable people such as American business tycoon, Donald Trump to receive honorary degrees.

Over the past three years, Scottish universities have spent vast amounts of money on travel, accommodation and hospitality for various people they want to award an honorary degree to.

The University of St Andrews has racked up the biggest total, £60,000 including expenses for air fares and hotel accommodation. 

Last year alone, the Fife university spent more than £30,000 towards honorary degrees.  Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy was one of the recipients whose appearance contributed towards that sum.

In the previous year the cost was £12,000 less than in 2009.  Dame Judi Dench, respected Scottish economist, Professor Angus Deaton and leading Scottish lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy received their honorary degrees at a cost of £18,000 to St Andrews University.

Donald Trump, who is building a controversial golf resort in Aberdeenshire, helped Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University spend almost £20,000 on charges associated with honorary degrees since 2007.  Other recipients included Sir Ranulph Fiennes and singer Barbara Dickson.

In response to the release of these figures, a spokesman for Robert Gordon University said the honorary degrees are “often part of a longer-term relationship” with the recipient that can “benefit” the university.

In the past two years, Glasgow-based Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama handed out honorary degrees to British actor Lord Richard Attenborough and director Oliver Stone.  The institution paid almost £3,000 to do so.

Dundee University spent in excess of £14,000 between 2008 and 2010 on honorary degrees, and during the same time period Queen Margaret University spent more than £4,500.

A spokesperson from Queen Margaret University said: “We believe it is entirely appropriate to honour and mark the contribution which these individuals have made and that it significantly enhances the experience of this important occasion for students and their families.”

Scottish celebrities honoured included singer Eddi Reader, who received an award from the University of Stirling, as did former First Minister Jack McConnell.  Approximately £5,000 was spent by this university on such awards between 2008 and 2010.

Strathclyde University spent £4,100 over the past three years, with Scottish author Andrew O’Hagan among those receiving an award. Glasgow Caledonian University spent £1,500 during 2009 and 2010.

Liberal Democrat MSP Margaret Smith said: “In straitened financial times, students will be disappointed to see their universities spending so much on honorary degrees rather than resources for learning.”

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