Campus envy likely in the Commons today when MP Chris Leslie unveils his 10-minute rule bill calling for an end to the practice of Oxford and Cambridge Universities giving graduates a free master's degree.
"Converting an Oxbridge bachelor's degree into an MA regardless of academic merit is unfair," says Leslie. "Two hundred thousand postgraduate students in the other 100 UK universities have to study, sit exams and earn their MAs."This will do nothing to reassure those of us who think this column used to be far, far better than it is now. Because the debate took place yesterday.
Reading it in Hansard, there is no doubt that Leslie is right. The crucial points are the ones he makes here:
That is not only unfair to the 200,000 students who get their MA the hard way, but fundamentally undermines the integrity of the MA marque.And, of course, sending in a cheque for £10 does not make you better educated. Further study does.
Worse, apparently 62% of employers when surveyed reported that they thought that the MA(Oxon) or MA (Cantab) were genuinely earned postgraduate qualifications.
Certainly, the blustering speech against Leslie's bill by Mark Field did not convince. Half of it was an appeal to history that declined into snobbery:
My college, St Edmund Hall, has a history dating back to 1278. At that juncture, the requirement was to surpass 21 terms after matriculation before qualifying for a master's degree, having taken a bachelor's degree prior to that.
That topping-up arrangement applied happily - dare I say it - for more than six centuries, before Leeds university was even founded let alone started handing out degrees of its own to deserving, and perhaps some slightly less deserving, candidates.In fact, the history of the Oxbridge MA is more complicated than this allows - Wikipedia is your friend.
The other half of Leslie's contribution was a muddled defence of educational "excellence and elitism" - how do awarding further degrees without further study further those? - and warning about the perils of government interference.
Hugh Muir ended by giggling that Ed Miliband (Oxford), David Cameron (Oxford), George Osborne (Oxford), Oliver Letwin (Cambridge), Ed Balls (Oxford), Vince Cable (Cambridge) and Theresa May (Oxford) might not be keen on the bill.
But, of course, not every Oxbridge graduate bothers to send in a cheque for a cosmetic MA. How many of these politicians did so? That would be interesting to know, but the Diary has declined a long way from the days when it used to break significant stories and it did not think it worth finding out.