A Cambridge professor has spoken out against the Oxbridge practice whereby students who pass BA undergraduate degrees are automatically entitled to an MA 3 years after graduation.
While students from other universities must complete and pay for a programme of advanced postgraduate study to obtain an MA, Oxbridge and Trinity College Dublin students can obtain the degree for free and without further work simply by attending a ceremony at their university.
Dr Neil Dodgson, an academic at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, labeled the system an “anomaly” from other universities’ practices, and said that Oxbridge needs to recognize that the world has “moved on”.
Speaking at a meeting of the Cambridge University Senate he said, “Many find it offensive that we should award a degree for doing nothing more than being able to breathe for three years. Every degree at Cambridge, other than the MA, is now a certificate awarded for passing an examination. It is only a matter of time before our MA spawns a PR disaster.
“Perhaps it is time, instead, for us to acknowledge that the rest of the world has moved on, and to align ourselves, reluctantly, with a world that believes that a degree should only be awarded for academic achievement.”
Most other universities with 4 year courses, such as those in Scotland, automatically award an MA at the end of the course, while the Oxford 4 year Classics course, for example, receives only a BA. 4 year Maths courses at Oxford receive an MMath. Other postgraduate degrees from Oxbridge which do require further study and achievement have different titles, such as MPhil and MSc.
However a statement released by Cambridge University’s council said, “The council believes that the (MA) degree continues to serve valuable purposes which outweigh any negative external perceptions of it. The QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) is well aware of the degree’s status and has not expressed any concerns about it.”
The Oxford University Press Office said that the degree is a “tradition” about which there are sure to be “many different opinions”.
The practice originates from the Middle Ages where the study of the arts took 7 years. The Bachelor of Arts degree was an intermediary degree between matriculation and admission to the degree of Master of Arts. Later the requirements for the Master’s degree gradually diminished, until the award became a formality, as it is now.
Many Oxbridge students feel that the degree is deserved. One student said, “Our courses are much more intensive than those at most other universities, and we work a lot harder, so it’s fair to recognise that.” Another student pointed out that “all employers know what MA Oxon means in comparison to an MA from another university, so it doesn’t give us any unfair advantage”.
However there has been much online debate about the issue, with students from other universities voicing concerns, and questioning the idea that students at Oxbridge work harder than those elsewhere.
One Oxford student said “The MA is nonsense, and every university outside of Oxbridge recognises as much.”