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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 13:28 GMT
'Mickey Mouse' degrees defended
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson studied Classics at Oxford
Universities should be free to decide what courses they teach - even if they are thought by some to be of dubious value, Boris Johnson has said.

"My instinct would be not to go round terminating Mickey Mouse courses," the new Conservative higher education spokesman told The Guardian newspaper.

He said more graduates in courses of any kind were good for society.

Surf science, golf course management and aromatherapy are among the degree courses criticised by MPs in the past.

'Academic freedom'

In 2003, then Education Secretary Charles Clarke pledged a review following criticism from both Labour and Conservative MPs.

Sometimes in our thinking about higher education, we're too narrowly confined to a utilitarian calculus about what it's doing to the bottom line of UK plc
Boris Johnson

But Mr Johnson spoke up for such courses, arguing "one man's Mickey Mouse course is another man's literae humaniores".

He cited media studies as an example of a degree thought by some journalists to be "complete rubbish" but which was often "a good way of getting employment".

"I don't think it's the business of government to weigh in and start saying this or that course must be struck off," Mr Johnson told the newspaper.

Citing a landmark US Supreme Court decision on academic freedom, Mr Johnson said: "If I want to do anything, I want to help vindicate academic freedom as enunciated in 1957 by Justice Felix Frankfurter: the freedom to decide on academic grounds who should teach, what they should teach, how it should be taught and whom to admit.

"I think that's a very good definition of what we should be trying to do."

'UK plc'

Mr Johnson, who like Conservative leader David Cameron went to Eton and Oxford, where he studied Classics, also criticised Labour's Mr Clarke, who famously said education for its own sake was "a bit dodgy".

Mr Johnson said: "Sometimes in our thinking about higher education, we're too narrowly confined to a utilitarian calculus about what it's doing to the bottom line of UK plc.

"I wanted to make the point that higher education adds immeasurably to the value of the UK economy without necessarily obliging everybody to pursue courses that have some immediate vocational application."

Mr Cameron has also argued in favour of learning for its own sake, saying during his brief period as shadow education secretary: "Education that inspires and instils a love of books, of knowledge and of learning is one route to a happy and fulfilling life."

The Conservatives went into last year's general election pledging to abolish Labour's 50% target for school leavers going to university, in favour of more vocational qualifications, with then shadow further education spokesman Chris Grayling saying there was "no evidence from employers that more graduates are required".

But Mr Johnson told The Guardian: "I want to shade our position on the 50% thing. It must be good for society and the economy if the number of people getting degrees of one kind or another increases."

A Swansea Institute degree course in surf studies was last year criticised as "Mickey Mouse" at a teachers' conference.

The course was subsequently dropped by the university because, according to college principal David Warner, "it was impossible to stop people poking fun at it".




SEE ALSO
Profile: Boris Johnson
20 Oct 04 |  UK Politics
'Surf' degree hits the rocks
06 Oct 04 |  South West Wales
Can the Tories find true happiness?
20 Jun 05 |  UK Politics

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