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Degrees of Oxford University

This article concerns the Degrees of Oxford University.

The system of academic degrees in the University of Oxford is very confusing to those not familiar with it. This is not merely due to the fact that many degree titles date from the Middle Ages, but also due to the fact that 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 is normally abbreviated Oxon. which is short for (Academia) Oxoniensis, e.g. MA (Oxon.)

Undergraduate degrees

leading to the degree of

Until recently, all undergraduate studied for the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The Bachelor's degree is awarded soon after the end of the degree course (3 or 4 years after matriculation) . The degree of Master of Arts follows 21 terms (7 years) after matriculation without further examination.

This dates from the Middle Ages, when the study of the seven liberal arts took 7 years. While the length of the degree course has shortened, the University of Oxford still requires seven years to pass before the awarding of the MA. In the four ancient Scottish universities the MA is awarded as a first degree on completion of the four-year degree course.

The shortening of the degree course reflects the fact that nowadays undergraduates enter university at a much older age (in France students get their baccalaureate (baccalaureus is Latin for bachelor's degree) at the end of high school.

Until 2000, only MAs (as well as certain higher doctors) were members of the University Convocation, which elects the Chancellor of the University. 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 their graduate alumni, such as the right to dine at High Table.

In the 1990s the degrees of Master of Engineering, etc., were introduced for the four-year degree undergraduate programmes in those subjects:

Note that biology undergraduates are still awarded the BA/MA.

Postgraduate degrees

In medieval times many subjects could not be studied until one had completed one's study in the liberal arts. These were known as the higher faculties, and they comprehend 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 entitled to be known as "Doctor". 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 have seen no need to change.

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.

The DPhil is a research degree introduced at Oxford in 1914. Rather atypically, it was Oxford who were the first university in the UK to introduce research degrees, which had previously been a German / American concept.

Recently other degrees have been introduced:

See also: