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Degree abbreviations are used as an alternative way to specify an academic degree instead of spelling out the title in full, such as in reference books such as Who's Who and on business cards. Many degrees have more than one abbreviation. In the UK it is not the custom to punctuate abbreviations for degrees with full stops (e.g. "BSc" rather than "B.Sc.").
Undergraduate degrees may be awarded "with Honours" or may be "Ordinary" or "Pass" degrees. The Honours degree can be designated with the abbreviation in brackets of '(Hons)'. The meaning of non-Honours degrees changed in the course of the twentieth century, and varies somewhat between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other, and also between institutions: in some universities, a student can deliberately choose to study for a degree without honours and in others an ordinary degree is only awarded if the candidate has failed to achieve the level necessary for honours but has achieved sufficient for a pass.
Usage of titles of master's degrees (in particular the undergraduate master's degrees) is in continuing flux, not least because of discussions of harmonisation of qualifications within the European Union as part of the Bologna process.
UK universities (like most universities worldwide) award doctorates by one of three routes: either as professional doctorates which are a combination of a taught component and research; or as pure research degree by thesis and oral examination ('viva'); or by a variety of ways without examination (e.g. honorary (honoris causa), by achieving a particular status such as becoming a bishop or a High Court judge (jure dignitatis), or as a courtesy to a member of staff who has graduated from another university (ad eundem)).
Perhaps the most common way to get an 'earned' (or 'substantive') doctorate is by research and the submission of a thesis. British universities award 'normal' doctorates in the form of PhD or DPhil in all subjects. They can also be awarded 'by publication' where a candidate offers a body of work, usually a number of peer-reviewed academic papers, book chapters or a book, already published for consideration for the award of a PhD. This is normally only available to staff members of the university in question.
Higher doctorates are awarded on the basis of a substantial body of published academic work. British universities award these in the form of DLitt (literature), LLD (law), DMus (music), DSc (science), EngD (engineering), DD (theology) etc. Honorary doctorates are awarded to persons of distinction (such as statesmen or philanthropists) or academics that have made a notable contribution to their discipline, through research and publication, and the higher doctorate designations are used. However, some newer universities (e.g. Essex, Stirling, and the Open University) do not do this and instead award DUniv (doctor of the university) irrespective of the field in which the honorary graduate is being recognised.
The usage in the two ancient English universities of Oxford and Cambridge differs slightly from that in other UK universities: the MA degree is not a substantive qualification but reflects the ancient practice of these universities of raising BAs to MAs (and thus full membership of the University) a few years after graduating (see Master of Arts (Oxbridge and Dublin)). In some Scottish universities, particularly the ancient universities, the Bachelor's degree is not available as a first degree in some faculties (see Scottish MA). Some universities also offer Master's degrees that are longer than a Bachelor's, usually four years, after which a Master's degree is awarded with no preceding Bachelor's degree.
Conversely, some bachelor's degrees in the higher faculties (i.e. those other than arts) in the ancient universities in the UK are postgraduate qualifications (e.g. the BCL and BMus at Oxford). Many have been changed to the corresponding master's degree (e.g. BSc is now MSc), but only within the last generation. The BD remains a higher degree at some older universities (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrew's and Durham) but is an undergraduate degree at most (e.g. London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow).
There is an international (but not universal) custom that certain degrees will be designated '.... of Philosophy'. Examples are the BPhil (Bachelor of Philosophy), MPhil (Master of Philosophy) and PhD or DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy). Most recipients of such degrees have not engaged in a specialised study of academic philosophy - the degree is available for almost the whole range of disciplines. The origins lie in the ancient practice of regarding all areas of study as elements of 'philosophy' and the Greek meaning, 'love of wisdom'. This is confusing to people looking at university degrees from the 'outside'. Thus holders of an MPhil degree may have earned it in any academic discipline.
Most British bachelor's degrees are honours degrees, indicated by putting '(Hons)' after the degree abbreviation. The majority of undergraduate master's degrees are within science and engineering subjects. The undergraduate MAs of the ancient universities of Scotland are also honours degrees and may also add '(Hons)'. MEng used to be offered by some universities as a postgraduate degree, but is now an undergraduate degree. However, all students completing the MEng at British universities have already completed the requirements for the BEng, but they choose not to be awarded the degree when entering the MEng year.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, almost all bachelor's degrees are awarded as honours degrees, sometimes indicated by '(Hons)' after the degree abbreviation either with or without a space, for example: 'BA (Hons)'. A student achieving a passing grade below honours standard (generally above 35% but below 40%, although it varies according to the institution) also gains an abbreviation such as 'BA', but without the (Hons) addendum. This is often referred to as an "ordinary degree" or a "non-honours pass".
At the Ancient universities of Scotland (St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen) a BSc(Hons) indicates a four year course, being the equivalent of the Scottish MA for science degrees. A Scottish BSc without honours indicates a three year course with less specialisation (an Ordinary Degree or a General Degree). Across the United Kingdom, bachelors degrees leading to registration for certain professions such as law and medicine are typically awarded at ordinary rather than honours level. In some circumstances, a medical student may study for an additional year or more to obtain an intercalated bachelors degree with honours in one of their professional subjects (e.g. physiology)
Some of the following are postgraduate degrees in a few universities, but generally bachelors are undergraduate degrees.
See also Bachelor's degree.
See also Foundation degree.
Postgraduate degrees are not honours degrees and do not add "(Hons)" to indicate this. MA (Hons) is only used for the undergraduate degree of the ancient Scottish universities: as there are no examinations for the MAs in Oxford and Cambridge there are consequently no honours to be awarded. The Oxbridge MA may be differentiated by putting the name of the institution after the degree, thus 'MA (Oxon)' or 'MA (Cantab)'. The MPhil is normally reserved for longer (often two year) research-based masters degrees (as at Oxford), although at Cambridge the MPhil is usually either a nine-month or twelve-month, either taught or research, degree. The MUniv is only ever an honorary degree. Postgraduate masters degrees are generally classified as pass, pass with merit and pass with distinction, although not all universities incorporate merit. The percentage bandings for these award levels are usually 50%-59% (pass), 60%-69% (merit) and 70%+ (distinction), although a merit banding of only 65%-69% is used in some universities whilst a single pass banding of 50%-69% is usually used at universities that do not award a merit.
In American universities' colleges of education a post-Master's degree is offered, straddling the niche between the doctorate and the master degrees. Often referred to as a "junior doctorate" the Education Specialist is a qualification corresponding to the coursework component of doctoral studies, and is earned in the various disciplines of education, especially administration, curriculum and instruction and psychology.
See also Master's degree.
Due to the flexibility of Latin word order, there are two schools in the abbreviation of doctor's degrees. At Cambridge, D follows the faculty (e.g. PhD, LittD.), while at Oxford the abbreviation D precedes the faculty (e.g. DPhil, DLitt). Most universities in the UK followed Oxford for the higher doctorates but followed international precedent in using PhD for Doctor of Philosophy. Doctor of Medicine (MD or DM) is sometimes a professional (e.g. in the US and others) and sometimes a research doctorate (e.g. in the UK and some of the Commonwealth). However, the MD/DM research degree often requires a shorter period of study than, for example, a PhD and is considered to be more on par with an MPhil than a doctorate proper (e.g. the University of Manchester); it can simply consist of the submission of a number of multi-authored publications, where authorial responsibility is unclear. Doctor of Philosophy is normally reserved for doctorates awarded on the basis of original research, other doctorates (typically professional doctorates) have substantial taught elements. Higher doctorates are normally awarded as honorary degrees (honoris causa), but can also be awarded on the basis of published work. DUniv is only ever an honorary degree. The sorting between doctorates below is dependent on the granting institution.
The order of seniority for higher doctorates varies from institution to institution and not all institutions award the same degrees. The following order generally pertains, especially in older universities.