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Top 10 controversial honorary degrees


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Universities are entitled to hand out degrees up to a master’s level to those who they consider to be an example to society. Read on for our list of ten dubious degree-holders in the public sphere.

1. The dictator... Robert Mugabe

The President of Zimbabwe received three honorary degrees, including one from Edinburgh University, for his role in the country achieving independence in 1979 and ending white rule in the first open elections. Unfortunately, since then accusations towards the president have included ethnic cleansing and collapsing his country’s economy. His honorary degrees have now been revoked. 

2. The businessman... Sultan Ahmed Ben Sulayem

Middlesex University's Dubai divison awarded this influential businessman an honorary degree in 2008 for his role in the economic development of the UAE and the Arab World. A year later, he was struggling to pay off $80 billion of debt linked to Dubai’s debt crisis. Since then, his billionaire rally-driving son Mohammed Ben Sulayem has also received his doctorate.

3. The kids' TV actor... Mr Tumble

CBeebies actor Justin Fletcher received his degree from the University of Reading for his contributions to children’s television and charities. Apparently he was 'thrilled to be honoured'.

4. The Communist (Deputy) Leader... Elena Ceausescu

The Deputy Prime Minister of Romania (and wife of the country's last Communist leader) was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Manilla in 1975 - despite her husband's leadership being widely seen as brutal and oppressive. 

5. The actor... Orlando Bloom

Bloom’s hometown gave the actor some recognition for the glorious locks that he sported as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, with a degree from the University of Kent.

6. The SATC actress... Kim Cattrall

Similarly, in the same year Cattrall was commended for her acting career by John Moores University in Liverpool, lest we forget that she was born a regular Scouser before shooting to fame.

7. The boxer... George Foreman

Alongside his heavyweight titles and paradoxical range of lean, mean grilling machines, Foreman boasts a degree from the Houston School of Theology.

8. The Bollywood star... Shilpa Shetty

The Bollywood actress was recognised for her contribution to the arts by Leeds Metropolitan University, conveniently timed to coincide with the commendable way in which she reacted to perceived racist comments on Big Brother 2007.

9. The fictional character... Kermit the Frog

Honorary degrees are even open to fictional frogs, it seems. Long Island University awarded Miss Piggy’s other half a doctorate of Amphibious Letters in 1996. The humble frog expressed his gratitude in his speech: “when I was a tadpole growing up back in the swamps, I never imagined that I would one day address such an outstanding group of scholars.”

10. And finally, the rejected... Margaret Thatcher

Oxford has a tradition of awarding honorary degrees to Prime Ministers who originally graduated from the university. This all changed in 1985 when Thatcher cut government spending on education, leading to a retaliatory rejection by the establishment. She is the only Oxford alumnus and Prime Minister who doesn't hold an honorary degree.  

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