Durham University actually once had a Harry Potter module

The discontinued module is the closest thing to a ‘Harry Potter studies’ degree that the higher education minister is trying to clamp down on

The newly-appointed higher education minister, Andrea Jenkyns, has left many people confused as she told an event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham: “The current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies, than in construction.”

Whilst one quick search on the UCAS website reveals there are zero Harry Potter degrees in the UK and 463 in construction, perhaps the new minister was referring to Durham University’s very own Harry Potter module titled: Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion, taught at the University between 2010-2021.

The Second Year module, provided by the Education Department, was available to students enrolled in the Education Studies BA and was worth just 20 credits – a mere one sixth of a year of study.

The module facilitated 70 students, with the aim of placing “the phenomenon that is Harry Potter in its social, cultural and educational context and understand some of the reasons for its popularity”. It also sought to “make explicit connections between Harry Potter and citizenship education”, with a focus on the “moral universe of the school”, and contrasted the depictions of ‘Gryffindor’ and ‘Slytherin’ houses in an investigation into “prejudice and intolerance in the classroom”.

Durham Cathedral was famously used as a filming location for the Harry Potter movies, making the module entirely relevant to a Durham syllabus. Furthermore, a lecture titled ‘Welcome to Hogwarts: the commodification of education. The sign replaces the thing – a reassuring world of uniforms, gowns and rituals’ resonates strongly with Durham students, who don gowns weekly for formals and other historic traditions, which give the University its unique character.

The module was initially administered through 22 weekly lectures and 11 fortnightly seminars, and graded on a 2000-word summative assignment and a two-hour final exam. Throughout the year, there were additional formative oral presentations in class and students were expected to undertake 167 hours of study on top of designated contact hours for the module. In-keeping with Durham’s extremely high academic reputation, this was not a light module.

Courtesy of Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone

Courtesy of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone

Whilst the idea of having a Harry Potter module may seem frivolous to Ms Jenkyns, who studied Economics and International Relations at the Open University and Lincoln University in her late thirties, she perhaps mistakes her s0-called “degree in Harry Potter studies” with the very common term ‘Mickey Mouse degree’.

Where a ‘Mickey Mouse degree’ typically leaves its graduates with low employment prospects, with some graduates suing for this precise reason, the same cannot be said of Durham’s Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion module.

The Durham University Education Department was ranked first in the country when the module first ran by The Sunday Times University Guide 2012, and was second in the country according to The Times Good University Guide 2013. Durham University itself ranked third overall in The Sunday Times University Guide 2012, affirming its position in the ‘Golden Triangle’ with Oxbridge.

Ten years on, the Education Studies course maintains its high standards and is currently ranked second in The Complete University Guide. The employment rate for those who graduated in 2019 is 100%, with all graduates working in high-skilled jobs and earning an average initial graduate salary of £24,000, even despite having taken a Harry Potter module. According to Salaryexpert.com, Target Jobs and Pay Scale, this is roughly comparable to entry-level construction job salaries, which range between £22,000 and £25,000.

At the time, Carolyn Fowler, Registrar of Durham University, called the module “serious, but innovative”.

“Harry Potter is a culturally iconic phenomenon and has already been the subject of many well-regarded academic studies over recent years, so it is only fitting that a leading university like Durham responds to new developments in our academic and wider social and cultural environment in developing new modules like this”.

If Ms Jenkyns’ own career is allowed to span from beauty pageant finalist in her youth, to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills, Further and Higher Education at the Department for Education, it would be remiss of the MP to deny today’s young people the opportunity to experiment and pursue interests that might not correlate fully with future career goals.