Ancient interests

February 25, 2000

Recent discussion about the Scottish MA illustrates the chaotic state of academic terminology. When, four decades ago, I graduated from the University of Edinburgh as a master of arts, after a four-year honours course in English, a friend, having already gained first-class honours after three years at Manchester, spent a fourth year preparing his MA thesis. A little later, after a four-year English honours programme at Queen's University, Belfast, my future wife was awarded her BA. In those days, the London BD was a first degree, the Scottish BD was for graduates and the Oxford BD was a postgraduate award; the Cambridge MLitt was equivalent to the Oxford BLitt; the Scottish and QUB BEd/EdB (now restyled MEd) offered advanced courses in education and psychology to graduates who were diplomates in education; and the Trinity College, Dublin MA was similar to the Oxford/Cambridge MA.

But now nomenclature is yet more anomalous. As an illustration, at the University of Edinburgh an MA is regarded as a first degree, the BA (in religious studies) also exists; and certain four-year BSc honours programmes are very similar to their MA counterparts. Only the faculty of arts has the MLitt degree, every other faculty having the (equivalent) MPhil. Musicians have BMus, MMus, MPhil, PhD and DMus. Divinity students have BA, MA, BD, MTh, MSc, MPhil, PhD and DD. Terminological surprises occur: the BTechnol field of study is the rural and the environmental; the MLA stands not for master of library administration but for master of landscape architecture; and the MSW signifies master of social work. No longer can one become a bachelor of law, but one can become bachelor of laws, master of laws, master of science, master of philosophy, doctor of philosophy and doctor of laws. Although psychologists may no longer get the DPhil (now defunct), the DClinPsychol and DPsychol have become available, albeit differing markedly from each other and from the PhD and DLitt/ DSc. Then, for further bewilderment, appear the new (honours) masterships - such as MEng and MPhys - extended or enhanced (five-year) primary degrees, requiring a year's more study than their counterparts south of the border.

John Geoffrey Sharps. Scarborough

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