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From puppets to Potter – these degrees are no joke

Harry Potter poster, Warner Bros

Want to study Harry Potter, puppetry or brewing? This isn’t an April Fool – there are a whole host of unusual degree courses on offer that’ll turn heads. Do any of the following degrees float your boat?

That nautical intro nicely leads me into Cruise Management actually, a course currently on offer from Plymouth University. That’s just one of the more unusual discoveries during our deeper look into the thousands of courses featured on Which? University.

Supported by P&O Cruises, that course is centred around setting students up for a career in the cruise industry – often including a year’s paid placement (on, you guessed it, a cruise ship).

Weird and wonderful degrees

Unusual degree courses - Which? UniversityHere’s a vocational offering from Abertay Dundee University: a four year degree in Ethical Hacking. Students are taught about the latest tools and techniques to break into web servers, steal information and remotely control someone’s computer. It might sound pretty unorthodox, but as the university describes it, ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’.

Or, how about the highly competitive Theatre Practice – Puppetry course on offer at the Central School of Speech and Drama? The module line-up sounds fascinating: puppet-making processes, principles of movement, voice work, animation and manipulation.

Heriot-Watt, meanwhile, is one of only two universities in Europe to offer a Brewing and Distilling degree. The uni comes complete with its own pilot plant brewery and distillery, for teaching the practicalities of malting, fermenting, brewing and distilling.

Our full list of unusual degree courses is over on Which? University, where you can find out more about these, as well as the likes of Applied Golf Management Studies and the infamous Harry Potter module in Durham University’s Education Studies degree…

It’s all about the right course for you

With tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year and an uncertain graduate jobs market, it’s ever important – and increasingly tricky – to make the right study choices. But whether it’s an out-of-the-ordinary course or something a little more straight-laced, the advice when it comes to finding courses remains the same.

Question and research what the course content and modules actually involve and how you’ll be assessed. Make sure you’ll feel genuinely passionate enough to spend the next three or four years studying it, and understand what the subject might lead to in the longer term. And have a look at what the university and local area will be like to live, study and socialise in.

We’re sure there are plenty more weird and wonderful courses to bring to the fore… which ones have you heard of? Did you yourself study an unusual course?

richard says:
1 April 2013

Sadly the average person’s perception of a degree in anything OTHER than traditional broad Technical subjects such as Maths or Engineering is they are a complete waste of time – totally ignoring that the non traditional subjects now offered – are offered because there are jobs in them – And completely ignore that some very obscure (especially in the Arts) degrees have always been around – but too “Arty” for the average person to understand so they ignored them. I’ve always been in favour of the aims of the 1944 act to “Optimise educational attainment irrespective of means or background” – sadly this still hasn’t happened – the nearest we came to it was the introduction of the EMA – now defunct.

My degree subject is considered to be unusual; I have a BA in Adventure Tourism Management. While the course did include outdoor activity courses and research expeditions abroad, it was also a solid business management degree. I left university with valuable knowledge of people management, marketing and finance, as well as more specialised subjects like ecotourism and risk management. The vast majority of students on my course went straight into good roles in the industry, in the UK and throughout the world. For me, it was time and money well spent.

Shirley says:
2 April 2013

Brewing and Distilling degree. I recently met someone whose son had done this course at H-Watt. It had been extremely good and had led straight into an excellent career.

Sorry but you cannot sign up for a degree in Harry Potter. It’s only a 20 credit Level 2 module offered by the Department of Education at the University of Durham. Just lectures and seminars, with no exciting practical work or field courses to add interest.


Such a shame. Perhaps this is where our universities are going wrong; instead of telling us what subjects we can read from thier prospectus they should compete for our custom by offering to make a course up if, say, ten or more people want to study a particular thing. Full academic rigour would be required but who knows what the outcome would be if higher education could be truly liberalised, and what careers and opportunities would open up for people all over the world. Initially it would be a challenge to find suitable professors to develop and deliver these courses in response to unpredictable demands, but the one thing we need more than ever in these highly technologised times is more people with open minds, a capacity for intelligent responses to situations, and an eagerness to think seriously about things and communicate effectively. Far be it from me to say that a comprehensive study of the world of Harry Potter in its historical, sociological, and literary context could not be very fruitful and worthy of a degree.

John – Putting together a new degree is actually a major undertaking because subject benchmarks must be met and input is needed from other institutions that act as external assessors. Even producing a new module involves plenty of work. What is often done is to rename modules and tweak the content to add appeal. I don’t see a problem in having an appealing if inaccurate title for a module providing that there is an accurate synopsis of the content.

I would not dismiss the Harry Potter module even though I cannot relate to it. The module description certainly makes it seem more plausible.

I agree, Wavechange. I should have issued an irony alert. I appreciate that developing self-service on-demand degree courses might be more challenging than the academic system could possibly cope with in the immediate future or, indeed, be more intellectually sophisticated than the country requires! I was just musing that the current model of higher education straightjacket could do with a little flexibility, especially for mature students who might not be looking for career relevance but want something truly mind-stretching to avoid having to pine away their days writing pieces for Which? Conversation,enjoyable though that undoubtedly is. On reflection, perhaps the H. Potter fantasies are not the right thing though, for me at least..

Sorry John, I was on automatic pilot. I may be retired but I’m still interested in what is happening in higher education. I very much agree with what you say about the need for flexibility and to a certain extent this has been met by the introduction of modules, allowing students some freedom to customise their degrees to suit their interests, abilities and career aspirations. In the sciences, there is usually a choice of research projects. Sadly, the more interesting projects may go to the better performing students, even where a weaker student could excel in practical work on a topic that motivates them. There is probably more scope for adapting to market demand in taught masters degrees.

I was being charitable about the Harry Potter module so as not to offend anyone involved involved, whether studying it or with its delivery. On the other hand, I cannot see any problem with having one oddball module in a degree course. Computer science courses sometimes have modules on gaming, and that raised a few eyebrows at the time. Running a degree on Ethical Hacking may be novel as a degree, but that has been in computer science modules for years.

I wonder if there are any degree courses on consumer rights. Obviously law departments cover some of the relevant legal issues, but I’m not aware of any degree courses.

Now there’s an idea, Wavechange: a BSc [Econ/Consumer Rights]. There are obviously some excellent career opportunities, not just in the ever-expanding Which? constellation of titles but in the legal profession, the regulatory sector, government, education, retail & service industries, financial services, publishing and the media generally, to name but a few. I fancy one of the city centre universities would be a suitable home for such a course with ample research opportunities on the doorstep.

EJ Stedman & Tilly de Verteuil says:
22 April 2013

We are puppetry students at CSSD and although it is perhaps a bit niche, we enjoy it nonetheless.
Yay for puppets!

The degrees mentioned may have unusual titles but that does not mean to say that they are a waste of time. It is an interesting marketing strategy. I am not sure that potential employers will be impressed when these degrees turn up on candidates’ CVs. 🙂

I am much more concerned about some highly questionable courses around, such as the masters degree in homeopathy offered by the University of Central Lancashire. Sadly, there is virtually no information about course content on their website, but I rather doubt that it includes critical thinking skills. At least their undergraduate degree in homeopathy is no longer recruiting.

My comment is prompted by a recent investigation in Which? discovered that not all pharmacists are telling customers about the lack of evidence that homeopathic products work. There are a two Conversations about this in the ‘Health’ section.

Our universities receive substantial funding from government, on top of the fees they charge students. I believe it is wrong to spend public money on subjects believed to be worthless by most educated people.