In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the most usual titles for a first degree are Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc). A first degree is usually awarded at the end of a three-year course, which most people start at the age of 18/19, after leaving school, a second degree is Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MSc) and a higher degree is Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil).
A higher degree is one which is awarded after further study, usually, although not always, involving research.
After a course of studies lasting from three to four years an undergraduate student sits for a final examination which, if he passes it, entitles him to a first degree. The final exam is the principal criterion for establishing the class of degree.
Uniformity of standards between universities is promoted by the practice of employing outside examiners for all examinations, and the general pattern of teaching (a combination of lectures, small group seminars or tutorials with practical classes where necessary) is fairly similar throughout Britain.
The range of second and further degrees in Britain is huge and complex – and depends on the arrangements of each autonomous university. There are MAs, MPhil, MSc, MBA, and many others. Some of these are obtained by doing another “taught course” and some by writing a thesis. Although some students take their second degree in the same university as their first degree, many more move to another university.
The award of a Master’s degree is the culmination of what is normally one-year full time or two-years of part-time taught study and demonstrates the attainment of mastery in the chosen subject area. Higher degrees are sometimes also called further degrees. Research degree is also used, but it is not an exact synonym of higher/further degree; it means a degree involving research, and not all (although most) higher degrees are research degrees.
Until recently, postgraduate Master’s degrees were awarded without grade or class. Nowadays, however, Master’s degrees are classified into categories of Pass, Merit and Distinction – commonly 50+, 60+, and 70+ percent marks, respectively.
The most common types of research postgraduate Masters are MPhil and MRes. The Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is a research degree awarded for the completion of a thesis. It is a shorter version of the PhD but is of a lower standard. The Master of Research (MRes) degree is a more structured and organized version of the MPhil, usually designed to prepare a student for a career in research. For example, an MRes may combine individual research with periods of work placement in research establishments. Like the PhD, the MPhil and MRes degrees are awarded without class or grade.
The Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin award MA degree to BAs without further examination, when a certain number of years have passed and (in some cases but not all cases) upon payment of a nominal fee. It is commonplace for recipients of the degree to have graduated several years previously and to have had little official contact with the university or academic life since then. The MAs awarded by Oxford and Cambridge are colloquially known as the Oxbridge MA.
The doctorate generally requires an outstanding proficiency in some specialised branch of research. It is regarded as the highest degree. The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) – DPhil at Oxford, Sussex and York – is awarded after a minimum of two or three years’ research and indicates a higher level of attainment than a Master’s degree.
The use of the word philosophy does not mean that the degree is restricted to philosophy. The name is the same for all faculties, and one may have a DPhil in English, or mathematics, or geography. From a practical point of view philosophy here means the same as íàóê in the names êàíäèäàò èëè äîêòîð íàóê.
A postgraduate may be granted an allowance called a “fellowship” for the pursuance of research work. Fellowships are established for a fixed number of years.