Honorary awards

History of honorary awards at the University of Sydney

Doctor of Laws ad eundem gradum, 1900-1951

There was no provision before 1951 for conferring of honorary degrees by the University of Sydney.

There was however provision for the University to confer degrees ad eundem gradum by the Ad Eundem Degrees Act 1881, and then the University and University Colleges Act 1900. The latter provided that:

  • 21(1) Where any person has obtained in any University, recognised by the by-laws of the University in force for the time being, any degree corresponding or equivalent to any degree which the Senate is now or may hereafter be empowered to confer after examination, the Senate may confer such latter degree upon such persons without examination.
  • (2) The person upon whom degrees are conferred, under the provisions of the preceding subsection, shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as appertain to those who have taken the same degree in the ordinary course in the University.

While many University of Sydney ad eundem degrees were conferred corresponding to the person's own degree from another university, a small number were conferred in lieu of honorary degrees. In general the degree of Doctor of Laws ad eundem gradum was conferred in this capacity upon members of the Royal Family, Governors-General, distinguished soldiers and leaders of industry.

The first recipient of the degree of Doctor of Laws ad eundem gradum in this category was His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901.

View recipients of Doctor of Laws ad eundem gradum to 1951

Honorary degrees, 1952 —

An amendment in 1951 to the University and University Colleges Act 1900 confirmed Senate's power to confer honorary degrees. Section 21A was inserted, which read:

  • Honorary degrees and other distinctions
    (1) The Senate shall have power and shall be deemed always to have had power to confer without examination the several degrees of Bachelor, Master, and Doctor and such other degrees and such certificates in the nature of degrees as the Senate thinks fit upon persons approved by the Senate.
  • (2) The persons upon whom degrees or certificates are conferred under the provisions of subsection one of this section shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as appertain to those who have taken the same degrees or cetificates, as the case may be in the ordinary course in the University.

The first honorary degree of the University of Sydney, the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa, was awarded to His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcott, KCMG CB MVO, the Governor of New South Wales and Official Visitor to the University 1946-52. The honorary degree was conferred by the Chancellor Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn KCMG OBE on Saturday 10 May 1952 at the annual ceremony of Conferring of Degrees in the Faculty of Arts.

Honorary degrees were next conferred on nineteen recipients on 29 August 1952 as part of the University's centenary celebrations.

The University of Sydney Act 1989, which replaced the earlier Act, provides:

  • 16. Functions of Senate
    (1B) (1) Without limiting the functions of the Senate under subsection (1A), the Senate may, for and on behalf of the University in the exercise of the University’s functions: (a) provide such courses, and confer such degrees (including ad eundem degrees and honorary degrees) and award such diplomas and other certificates, as it thinks fit.


Honorary Fellows of the University, 1985 —

On 1 June 1981 Senate approved the introduction of the award of Honorary Fellowship of the University for persons who had given great service to the University.

The Chancellor Sir Hermann Black had suggested that "the basic test might be summed up as service to the University in some supportive fashion, the operative word would be to distinguish it from the long service medal for service in the University'". He suggested that it be awarded on the basis of:

  • support of the interests and welfare of the University of Sydney or of a particular part of the University’s activities;
  • promotion of the academic purposes of the University or of facilitating those purposes in any particular activity of the University;
  • fostering the links between the University and other institutions within and without Australia;
  • enlarging educational opportunities to enter the University among persons with limited prospects of so doing for reasons which they could not overcome;
  • consistent representation of the University’s needs for resourcing of its growth and diversification.

On 3 December 1984, Senate adopted the conditions for the Honorary Fellowship.

The inaugural Honorary Fellows were the following, and their titles were conferred at graduation ceremonies held in 1985:

  • Arthur Thomas George
  • George Clifton Halliday
  • Kathleen O’Neil
  • Kenneth Wilberforce Tribe
  • William Tyree