Master’s Degrees (Minimum Standards)

Mark made a light-hearted contribution following a Ten Minute Rule Bill proposed by Chris Leslie MP on introducing minimum standards to obtain Masters degrees.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I must confess that the spirited call of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) is a reprise of a perennial squabble that I have had with my brother over the past two decades or so. Like the hon. Gentleman, my brother took a master’s degree that involved two years of postgraduate study, while I qualified-if that is the right word-for my MA as a result of gaining a degree from Oxford university. 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. Perhaps it is the other universities that should change their role to take account of the history of Oxford and Cambridge, which have established a well-set path of 21 terms post-matriculation by which someone qualifies for a master’s degree.

There is a more serious point about what the hon. Gentleman has said. Our elite universities are now global brands. They should not sit back and take ever more Government interference. Only last week, a proposal was made by the Deputy Prime Minister of the coalition Government to give ever more powers to the access regulator. If he has his way, in future universities will be banned from charging higher levels of tuition fees unless they adhere to fixed Government quotas on admissions. In my view, this is all wrong. The hon. Member for Nottingham East and his proposal are, I am afraid, part of that same muddled thinking. Our excellent and elitist universities do not need any more interference in their governance. Otherwise, I fear that we run the risk of some of our best institutions deciding before too long to go private. I am thinking not just of Oxford and Cambridge, but of the London of School of Economics and Imperial college-to name but two-in my constituency. We should be proud of the finest of our traditions in the higher education sphere. It is one of the relatively few areas in which we have a global leadership, and my fear is that ever more Government interference-of the sort articulated by the Bill-will lead to a diminution of that excellence and elitism. If that is the case, we will all suffer.