Why I... believe the Scottish MA should be preserved

二月 4, 2000

Sir Graeme Davies Principal, Glasgow University.

The Scottish master of arts is not an ordinary undergraduate degree. When it was proposed in the recent Quality Assurance Agency consultation that Glasgow's MA should be replaced by a bachelor of arts degree, the university responded negatively. Glasgow was joined in its stand by Scotland's other ancient universities,

Aberdeen, St Andrews and Edinburgh, and by the University of Dundee.

Not only have members of our academic staff opposed the proposed changes, but concerns have been voiced by some of Glasgow's 40,000 MA graduates, who have picked up on the rumours. We owe it to them not to allow their degrees to be devalued.

There are many reasons we said no. For a start, the MA is enshrined in the origins of the university and is the hallmark of our degrees in arts and social sciences. A papal bull - which William Turnbull, who was then the bishop of Glasgow, obtained from Pope Nicholas V in 1451 - gives the university the right to award degrees. From that time a student in the third year was designated as Baccalaureat and could graduate BA. A fourth-year student was a Magistrand and at the end of the year was entitled to compete for an MA.

Yet the proposals outlined in the QAA's consultation paper on a revised qualifications framework simply tidied these things up without examining them properly.

The Scottish MA increases the length and depth of study. Students in their fourth year will study the material that might be abridged in other postgraduate MA courses.

There is no need for confusion north and south of the border as to what an MA means - the Scottish MA has been a mark of high quality for centuries. Students should not be put off by worries about the cost of another year of fees, as a great many of our courses are four years in length. But the MA in particular reflects the history of Scotland's education system.

We do offer a general three-year degree, which does not take subjects to honours level, but it is not studied so widely.

Students seem to prefer the breadth offered by the MA.

I believe it will be difficult for the QAA to force us to change our qualifications framework. Informal advice leads me to conclude that it would require a parliamentary sanction and Scotland's universities would undoubtedly act against one.

There is also the additional challenge presented at the end of our bull, which warns off those intent on threatening the system: "If anyone shall presume to attempt this, let them know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God, and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul."

Should Scotland's MA be tidied up into a BA degree? Email us on soapbox@thes.co.uk

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To comment on any issue raised, email us on soapbox@thes.co.uk or join the debate on www.netnexus.org/ext/thes/soapbox

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