Helen Clark has her first honorary doctorate but will have to snaffle a few more if she wants to outstrip her prime ministerial peers.

Helen Clark was made a doctor of laws yesterday by her old university, Auckland, in recognition of her "enormous contribution to New Zealand and on the international stage".

Chancellor Roger France said Helen Clark was one of its most "illustrious graduates", having gained masters degree in political science there in the 1970s.

It is unlikely she will be known as "Dr Clark", although allowed, as the accepted practice with honorary doctorates in New Zealand is to forgo the title.

The title is left for those who have researched and studied for their doctorate, such as her husband, Peter Davis.

Helen Clark will have to get four more doctorates to surpass her former Labour rival Mike Moore, who has them from Lincoln University, Auckland University of Technology, Canterbury University, La Trobe University in Australia and the People's University of China.

However, she is already ahead of both David Lange and Jenny Shipley.

Mr Lange's widow, Margaret Pope, said he had nothing against honorary doctorates, but was never offered one.

Mrs Shipley, who doesn't have one, declined to comment.

Mr Moore, who went to work in the meatworks at 14 and never attended university, said he had never used the title Dr.

"I'm Mike Moore on my business card - that's it."

Mr Moore said the doctorates were a great honour: "In some places it's a cheap way of getting a free speech out of you, of course."

Helen Clark's masters thesis was on rural political behaviour and representation. She was also a lecturer at the university until she was elected to Parliament in 1981.

Mr France said the doctorate recognised her contribution "as a graduate, as a politician, a stateswoman of international stature and a great New Zealander".

Most of the controversy with honorary degrees relates to the use of "Dr". For instance, former United Future MP Bernie Ogilvy used the title when his doctor of laws degree came from a Californian theology school that didn't even have a law programme.

ROLL CALL

Helen Clark - 1
Jenny Shipley - 0
Jim Bolger - 2
Mike Moore - 5
Geoffrey Palmer - 3
David Lange - 0