Degrees of Oxford University

From Academic Kids

This article concerns the Degrees of Oxford University.

The system of academic degrees in the University of Oxford can be confusing to those not familiar with it. This is not merely because many degree titles date from the Middle Ages, but also because many changes have been haphazardly introduced in recent years. For example, the (medieval) BD, BM, BCL, etc. are postgraduate degrees, while the (modern) MPhys, MEng, etc. are undergraduate degrees.

In postnominals Oxford University is normally abbreviated Oxon. which is short for (Academia) Oxoniensis, e.g. MA (Oxon.)


Undergraduate degrees

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
  • Bachelor of Theology (BTh)

The Bachelor's degree is awarded soon after the end of the degree course (three or four years after matriculation). Until recently, all undergraduates studied for the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The BFA was introduced in 1978. Holders of the degrees of BA and BFA both proceed in time to the degree of Master of Arts (MA).

The BTh is awarded primarily to students of the various Theological Colleges and Halls enjoying some sort of associate status with the University, such as Wycliffe Hall, St Stephen's House, Ripon College, Cuddesdon [1] ( and the former Westminster College. Usually, these students are candidates for the ordained ministry of one of the mainstream Christian denominations, but may be drawn from any faith background or none at the discretion of the College or Hall. It should not be confused with the degree of bachelor of divinity (BD), which is a postgraduate degree.

The degree of Bachelor of Education (BEd) was formerly awarded to students at Westminster College, Oxford, when that course was validated by the University.

Undergraduate masters degrees

In the 1990s the degrees of Master of Engineering, etc., were introduced to increase public recognition of the four-year undergraduate science programmes in those subjects:

In Cambridge the same purpose has been accomplished more elegantly by granting science undergraduates the additional degree of Master of Natural Sciences (MSci) while continuing to award them the BA (and the subsequent MA). Note that biology undergraduates are still awarded the BA/MA, as are all other undergraduates, whether their degree courses last three years or four years.

The degree of Master of Arts

  • Master of Arts (MA)

The degree of Master of Arts is awarded to BAs and BFAs 21 terms (7 years) after matriculation without further examination, upon the payment of a nominal fee. Recipients of undergraduate masters' degrees are not eligible to incept as MA, but are afforded the same privileges after the statutory 21 terms.

This system dates from the Middle Ages, when the study of the liberal arts took seven years. In between matriculation and the licence to teach which was awarded at the end of an undergraduate's studies (whereafter he incepted as a Master of Arts), he took an intermediate degree known as the baccalaureate, or degree of Bachelor of Arts. In the University of Paris the baccalaureate was granted soon after responsions (the examination for matriculation), whereas in Oxford and Cambridge the bachelor's degree was postponed to a much later stage, and gradually developed a greater significance. While the requirements for the bachelor's degree increased, those for the master's degree gradually diminished until the final examination for MA was finally abolished in 1807.

While the length of the undergraduate degree course has been shortened to three or four years, the University of Oxford still requires seven years to pass before the awarding of the MA. The universities of Cambridge and Dublin have similar systems. In the four ancient universities of Scotland, the BA has become obsolete, and the MA is awarded on completion of the four-year undergraduate degree course in the arts.

The shortening of the degree course reflects the fact that much of the teaching of the liberal arts was taken over by high schools, and undergraduates now enter university at a much older age. In France today students get their baccalaureate at the end of secondary school.

Significance of the MA

Despite the fact that no greater academic achievement is involved, the MA remains the most important degree in Oxford. Traditionally the MA represented full membership of the University: until 2000, only MAs (as well as doctors of divinity, medicine and civil law) were members of Convocation, the main legislative assembly of the University, which today only elects the Chancellor and the professor of Poetry. Prior to then, members of the university who had not yet been made MA were known as "junior members" while those who were MAs were "senior members". This conveniently excluded most postgraduate students from the privileges the university and colleges accord to dons as well as their graduate alumni, such as the right to dine at High Table.

Members of the University who are MAs still outrank any person who does not have the degree of MA, other than doctors of divinity, medicine and civil law. Hence, a doctor of philosophy who is an MA outranks someone who is simply an MA, but the MA outranks a doctor of philosophy who is not an MA.

Postgraduate degrees

In medieval times a student could not study some subjects until he had completed his study in the liberal arts. These were known as the higher faculties, and they comprise the subjects named above (other than Philosophy). The higher bachelors degree programme is generally a taught programme of one or two years for graduates. In Medicine and Surgery this corresponds to the clinical phase of training, after which they are commonly known as "Doctor". The degrees of BD and BMus are open only to Oxford graduates who have done well in the BA examinations in divinity and music respectively. The BPhil/MPhil is a research degree which is often a stepping stone to the DPhil.

Due to pressure from employers and overseas applicants to conform with United States practice, which is also that of most other UK universities, the BLitt and the BSc were renamed masters' degrees. However, the more prestigious BD, BCL, BM & BCh, BMus and philosophy BPhil degrees are well recognised have seen no need to change.

Higher degrees

  • Doctor of Divinity (DD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (DM)
  • Master of Surgery (MCh) (the distinction between master and doctor was in medieval times not significant)
  • Doctor of Civil Law (DCL)
  • Doctor of Letters (DLitt)
  • Doctor of Science (DSc)
  • Doctor of Music (DMus)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil)

Bachelors in the higher faculties other than Medicine and Surgery can proceed to a doctorate in the same faculty without further examination, on presentation of evidence of an important contribution to their subject, e.g. published work, research, etc. Doctorates in the higher faculties may also be awarded honoris causa, i.e. as honorary degrees. It is traditional for the Chancellor to be made a DCL by virtue of his office.

The DPhil is a research degree introduced at Oxford in 1914, and has a lower status than the so-called "higher doctorates" (i.e. those doctorates other than in Philosophy). Rather atypically, it was Oxford that was the first university in the UK to introduce research degrees, which had previously been a German / American concept.

Recent innovations

Recently other degrees have been introduced:

The degree of Master of Education was formerly awarded to students at Westminster College, when that course was validated by the University.

See also

External links


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools