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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 15:24 GMT
'Irresponsible' Hodge under fire
Lecture
Universities are under pressure to fill courses
Higher Education Minister, Margaret Hodge, has been accused of being "grossly irresponsible" in her comments about "Mickey Mouse" university courses.

Roderick Floud, president of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, has condemned the minister's choice of words and has challenged her to identify specific courses which merit that description.

Margaret Hodge
Margaret Hodge has irritated university chiefs

Professor Floud says that the minister has a "basic responsibility" to come forward with the names of the courses and universities which are so poor.

Ms Hodge's comments were made on Monday, when discussing higher education expansion at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The minister confirmed the government's target of 50% of young people entering higher education.

But she said that "Simply stacking up numbers on Mickey Mouse courses is not acceptable."

Asked to define a Mickey Mouse course she said: "It is one where the content is perhaps not as rigorous as one would expect and where the degree itself may not have huge relevance in the labour market."

But she refused to identify any specific Mickey Mouse courses.

'Simplistic'

The timing of her comments has angered the higher education sector, as it struggles with budget shortfalls and braces itself for further upheaval in the long-delayed review of university and student funding.

The remarks exasperated Geoffrey Copland, vice-chancellor of the University of Westminster and chairman of the Coalition of Modern Universities.

Describing her comments as "extremely unfortunate rhetoric", Dr Copland said that it was "ill-informed and simplistic labelling".

Phil Willis
Phil Willis said the comments showed the minister was "out of her depth"

Vocational, non-traditional courses have been developed in many universities in response to student demand.

And Dr Copland said that "if anyone bothers to look at a course such as media studies, they will find it is extremely rigorous".

"And the graduates from such courses are very employable," he said.

Market forces

The university sector is awaiting the government's verdict on funding - and has already been told that it needs to respond to "market forces".

But the minister's remarks seem to suggest that many courses already face being scrapped.

"I think many of these current courses will probably disappear.

"I'm not going to sit here and name and shame any particular course. But once we publish far more open data about the nature of courses and how they help you lead to a job ...

"I think students will ensure that what is offered by universities not just meets their aspirations but also meets labour market needs."

Although universities have often been mocked for courses that sound non-academic, such as tourism studies, their defence is usually that they are responding to demands from students and industry.

And university chiefs argue that they should not be criticised for producing graduates and research for important industries.

Universities, facing a 10bn shortfall, are under financial pressure to make courses financially viable - and courses without sufficient student numbers have been forced to close.

Ms Hodge's comments were attacked as "puerile" by Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Phil Willis, who accused her of being an "out-of-depth minister" in a "Mickey Mouse government".

"Bandying insults about higher education a week before the government publishes its review demonstrates a lack of integrity, a lack of professionalism and an inability to understand that the whole of higher education needs radical reform not insults."


Talking PointTALKING POINT
 Mickey Mouse degrees
Do they exist?
See also:

15 Nov 02 | Education
17 Nov 02 | Politics
11 Sep 02 | Education
13 Jan 03 | Education
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