This is a republish of this article
Rewarding honorary degrees at European Universities began during the 15th century and was traditionally called honoris causa (for the sake of the honor) degrees.
In 1478, Lionel Woodville (Dean of Exeter University, the Bishop of Salisbury and Edward IV’s brother-in-law) received the first honorary degree ever given from a university (Oxford University).
Honorary degrees mostly resulted in full privileges at the university and academic peerages. In the meantime, universities would also grant degrees to alumni with great career achievements as well as individuals who made a notable contribution to society or humanity.
Most common honorary degrees are the Doctor of Arts (D.A.), of Letters (Litt. D.), of Science (Sc. D.), of Technology (D. Tech.), of Laws (L.L.D.), of Fine Arts (D.F.A) and of Music (Mus. D.).
The number of Honorary Degrees awarded strongly oscillates between one university and another. Here are a couple examples from renowned institutions, including some of the worlds\’ most famous establishments:
– Yale University: 2,784 honorary degrees (through 2013)
– University of Ottawa: 801 honorary degrees (1888 – 2014)
– King’s College London: 337 honorary degrees (through 2013)
– University of Cambridge: 323 honorary degrees (1977 – 2013)
Aside from those public universities and business schools, leading private universities also award honorary degrees, especially when they reach a certain level of international recognition and accreditation. Those private universities award substantially fewer degrees in terms of numbers – as shown by formal verifications for two leading institutions:
– Webster University: 97 honorary degrees (through 2014)
– European University: 24 honorary degrees (through 2013)
In straightforward terms, Webster University has awarded almost four times as many degrees than European University, and Yale University has awarded one hundred and ten times as many! This is attributed to a more selective process. Another factor often referred to by professionals is the usage of honorary degrees for advertising: where European University or Webster are selective and low-key in their process, attributing honorary degrees first and foremost based on merit, others may use honorary degrees as pure advertising.
Indeed, honorary degrees have often raised criticisms as to why universities would sometimes award degrees to individuals who wouldn’t have any affiliation with the institution itself. It has been claimed that many honorary degrees were given in response to major donations or to raise media attention on the university. Another problem raised is the excessive number of honorary degrees awarded; indeed, the more honorary degrees given the less value each one has.
Some universities like Cambridge Ministry Church Institute are even selling honorary degrees; making these titles not only worthless but a joke within the educational community. Those practices are bringing wake confusion and misunderstanding, even within the news, media or professional communities.
It is clear that some universities abuse the practice by awarding way too many honorary degrees, in search of quick fame or recognition. But it clearly appears that those awards still have a long way to go, they are useful in many cases, proving the value an institution gives to an individual – and its contrary too.