Master of Arts (Oxbridge)

Master of Arts (Oxbridge)

Ask a question about 'Master of Arts (Oxbridge)'
Start a new discussion about 'Master of Arts (Oxbridge)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
In the Universities of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

, Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 and Dublin
University of Dublin
The University of Dublin , corporately designated the Chancellor, Doctors and Masters of the University of Dublin , located in Dublin, Ireland, was effectively founded when in 1592 Queen Elizabeth I issued a charter for Trinity College, Dublin, as "the mother of a university" – this date making it...

, Bachelors of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 of these universities are admitted to the degree of Master of Arts
Master of Arts (postgraduate)
A Master of Arts from the Latin Magister Artium, is a type of Master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The M.A. is usually contrasted with the M.S. or M.Sc. degrees...

or Master in Arts (MA) on application after six or seven years' seniority as members of the university (including years as an undergraduate).

There is no examination or study required for the degree beyond those required for the BA. This practice differs from that in most other universities worldwide, for whom the degree reflects further postgraduate study or achievement, and these degrees are sometimes referred to as the Oxbridge MA and Dublin or Trinity MA to differentiate them. The Oxbridge MA is based on the system of academic rank rather than on one of academic qualifications. Once incepted/promoted to MA, the holder no longer wears the academicals or uses the post-nominals pertaining to a Bachelor of Arts as they are no longer of that rank, thus the Master of Arts is not a separate degree given in addition to the Bachelor of Arts.

All three universities have other masters' degrees that require further study and examination, but these have other titles, such as Master of Letters
Master of Letters
The Master of Letters is a postgraduate degree.- United Kingdom :The MLitt is a postgraduate degree awarded by a select few British and Irish universities, predominantly within the ancient English and Scottish universities.- England :Within the English University system MLitts are not universally...

 (MLitt), Master of Philosophy
Master of Philosophy
The Master of Philosophy is a postgraduate research degree.An M.Phil. is a lesser degree than a Doctor of Philosophy , but in many cases it is considered to be a more senior degree than a taught Master's degree, as it is often a thesis-only degree. In some instances, an M.Phil...

 (MPhil), Master of Studies
Master of Studies
The Master of Studies is a postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, The Australian National University and University of Dublin which typically requires both classroom study and the completion of a thesis...

 (MSt), Master of Engineering
Master of Engineering
A Master of Engineering or Master of Technology or Master of Science in Engineering A Master of Engineering (Magister in Ingeniaria) (abbreviated M.Eng., ME or MEng) or Master of Technology (abbreviated M.Tech. or MTech) or Master of Science in Engineering A Master of Engineering (Magister in...

 (MEng) and Master of Science
Master of Science
A Master of Science is a postgraduate academic master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in the sciences including the social sciences.-Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay:...


In the ancient universities of Scotland
Ancient universities of Scotland
The ancient universities of Scotland are medieval and renaissance universities which continue to exist until the present day. The majority of the ancient universities of the British Isles are located within Scotland, and have a number of distinctive features in common, being governed by a series of...

, the degree is awarded as a first degree
First Degree
First Degree was a 9 part drama series made by BBC Wales which aired in 2002. The series followed the lives, trials and tribulations of students in the fictional Bay College, one of several hi-tech media schools owned and run by an enigmatic entrepreneur based in Sacramento, California known only...

 to undergraduates in certain subjects (see Master of Arts (Scotland)
Master of Arts (Scotland)
A Master of Arts in Scotland can refer to an undergraduate academic degree in humanities and social sciences awarded by the ancient universities of Scotland – the University of St Andrews, the University of Glasgow, the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh, while the University of...



Masters of Arts in the three universities may use the post-nominal letters
Post-nominal letters
Post-nominal letters, also called post-nominal initials, post-nominal titles or designatory letters, are letters placed after the name of a person to indicate that the individual holds a position, educational degree, accreditation, office, or honour. An individual may use several different sets of...

 "MA". Although honours are awarded for the examinations leading to the BA degree, it is incorrect to use the style "MA (Hons)" as there is no examination for the MA degree. The abbreviated name of the university (Oxon., Cantab. or Dubl.) can be appended to the initials "MA" in the same way that it is to other degrees, e.g. "John Smith, MA (Cantab), PhD (Lond)". This is usually done in these cases so that it is clear (to those who are aware of the system) that these are nominal and unexamined degrees. New convention at Oxford prefers "Oxf" to "Oxon". In the University of Cambridge the MA can also be awarded to senior members of staff, after five years of employment, if they have not previously studied at Cambridge.


In all three universities, a Bachelor of Arts may "incept" as a Master of Arts as soon as he is of the required academic standing. No further examinations or residence are required, but some institutions may require the incipient to pay a fee.
  • At Oxford, the MA may be conferred during or after the twenty-first term from matriculation
    Matriculation, in the broadest sense, means to be registered or added to a list, from the Latin matricula – little list. In Scottish heraldry, for instance, a matriculation is a registration of armorial bearings...

     (i.e. ordinarily seven years after joining the University) upon anyone holding an Oxford BA or Bachelor of Fine Arts
    Bachelor of Fine Arts
    In the United States and Canada, the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, usually abbreviated BFA, is the standard undergraduate degree for students seeking a professional education in the visual or performing arts. In some countries such a degree is called a Bachelor of Creative Arts or BCA...

     (BFA) degree. An exception is that a Bachelor of Arts who attains the degree of Doctor of Philosophy may immediately incept as a Master of Arts, before the requisite number of terms have passed.
  • At Cambridge, the MA may be conferred six years after the end of the first term in residence upon anyone holding a Cambridge Bachelor of Arts
    Bachelor of Arts
    A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

     (BA) degree. There is no university charge for the degree, although many colleges require an administration fee to be paid.

  • At Dublin, the MA may be conferred to anyone holding a Dublin BA or other bachelor degree of at least three years' standing. A fee is payable, but is waived in the case of graduates of more than fifty years' standing.

There are a number of other situations in which the MA may be conferred, but these are by far the most common; details of these other instances may be found in the sections referenced.

In accordance with the formula of ad eundem gradum recognition that exists between the three universities, a graduate of Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin who is entitled to an MA may be conferred with the equivalent degree at either of the other two universities without further examination. The Board of Trinity College, Dublin currently restricts its ad eundem awards to eligible members of the Dublin academic staff, or those who wish to register for a higher degree at Dublin; Cambridge restricts its awards to those "matriculated as a member of the University"; Oxford considers applicants who are undertaking a course of study or fulfil some educational role at Oxford, or who have "rendered valuable services to the University or to its members."

History and rationale

This system dates from the Middle Ages, when the study of the liberal arts took seven years. In the late mediaeval era students would attend university earlier than is now usual, and often as early as 14 or 15. The basic university education in the liberal arts
Liberal arts
The term liberal arts refers to those subjects which in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free citizen to study. Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic were the core liberal arts. In medieval times these subjects were extended to include mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy...

 comprised the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the Quadrivium
The quadrivium comprised the four subjects, or arts, taught in medieval universities, after teaching the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" , and its use for the 4 subjects has been attributed to Boethius or Cassiodorus in the 6th century...

 (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music), and typically took seven years of full-time study.

In between matriculation and licence to teach which was awarded at the end of an undergraduate's studies (whereafter he was incepted as a Master of Arts), he took an intermediate degree known as the baccalaureate
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

, or degree of Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

. The division into trivium and quadrivium did not always correspond with the division between the studies required for the BA and MA, but was adopted in Cambridge in the Tudor era and maintained long after it was abandoned elsewhere in Europe. In the University of Paris
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

 the baccalaureate was granted soon after responsions
Responsions was the first of the three examinations once required for an academic degree at the University of Oxford.It was nicknamed the Little Go and was generally taken by students prior to or shortly after matriculation, the idea being that without standardised qualifications from school...

 (the examination for matriculation), whereas in Oxford and Cambridge the bachelor's degree was postponed to a much later stage, and gradually developed a greater significance.

On inception and admission to the degree of Master of Arts, a student would become a full member of the university, and allowed to vote in discussions of the house of Convocation
A Convocation is a group of people formally assembled for a special purpose.- University use :....

. The new MA would then be required to teach in the university for a specified number of years (during which time he was a 'regent' or 'regent master'). Upon completion of these duties, he would become a 'non-regent master' and allowed to either leave the university (often to become a clerk or enter the priesthood), or stay on and undertake further studies in one of the specialist or 'higher' faculties of Divinity, Canon or Civil Law and Medicine.

Later, it became possible to study in the higher faculties as a BA, though the higher degree could not be taken until the student had the required seniority to incept as an MA. While the requirements for the bachelor's degree increased, those for the master's degree gradually diminished. By the 18th century, the ancient system of disputation
In the scholastic system of education of the Middle Ages, disputations offered a formalized method of debate designed to uncover and establish truths in theology and in sciences...

s had degenerated into a mere formality, and it was possible to satisfy the prescribed terms of residence, which formerly included compulsory attendance at set lectures, by keeping one's name on the college books. Examinations along modern lines were introduced for the BA and MA degrees in Oxford by the first great statute to reform the examination system in 1800, but the MA examination was abolished by a second statute in 1807.

While the length of the undergraduate degree course has been shortened to three or four years in all subjects, all three universities still require roughly seven years to pass before the awarding of the MA. The shortening of the degree course reflects the fact that much of the teaching of the liberal arts was taken over by grammar school
Grammar school
A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and some other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching classical languages but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school.The original purpose of mediaeval...

s, and undergraduates now enter university at a much older age (17 or 18). (It may be noted that the school-leaving certificate in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 today is known as the baccalaureate
The baccalauréat , often known in France colloquially as le bac, is an academic qualification which French and international students take at the end of the lycée . It was introduced by Napoleon I in 1808. It is the main diploma required to pursue university studies...


The University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

, in the mid-19th century, broke away from the ancient model by considering the MA to be a higher degree distinct from the initial degree. However, in instituting a course of further study beyond the initial baccalaureate, London can be seen to have reverted to the ancient model. Almost all newer universities followed London's lead with the result that the Oxbridge model is now the anomaly. Some followed the Oxbridge model for some years (some allowed progressions in the same faculty such as BSc to MSc, etc.) but changed to the London system afterwards.

Rights and privileges

The degree of Master of Arts traditionally carried various rights and privileges, the chief of which was membership of the legislative bodies of the universities - Convocation
A Convocation is a group of people formally assembled for a special purpose.- University use :....

 at Oxford and the Senate at Cambridge and Dublin. These were originally important decision-making bodies, approving changes to the statutes of the universities and electing various officials, including the two members of Parliament for each university. Inception to the MA degree was the principal way of becoming a member of these bodies, though it is not the only way, e.g. at Oxford Doctors of Divinity, Medicine and Civil Law were always also automatically members of Convocation. Today, the main role of Convocation and Senate is the election of the Chancellor
Chancellor (education)
A chancellor or vice-chancellor is the chief executive of a university. Other titles are sometimes used, such as president or rector....

 of each university; the Professor of Poetry
Oxford Professor of Poetry
The chair of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford is an unusual academic appointment, now held for a term of five years, and chosen through an election open to all members of Convocation, namely, all graduates and current academics of the university; in 2010, on-line voting was allowed....

 at Oxford; the High Steward at Cambridge; and, at Dublin, senators to the University of Dublin (constituency) of Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann is the upper house of the Oireachtas , which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann . It is commonly called the Seanad or Senate and its members Senators or Seanadóirí . Unlike Dáil Éireann, it is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by...

, the upper house of the Irish Oireachtas
The Oireachtas , sometimes referred to as Oireachtas Éireann, is the "national parliament" or legislature of Ireland. The Oireachtas consists of:*The President of Ireland*The two Houses of the Oireachtas :**Dáil Éireann...


The privileges accorded to MAs and other members of Convocation/Senate were formerly very important. At Oxford, until 1998 the Proctor
Proctor, a variant of the word procurator, is a person who takes charge of, or acts for, another. The word proctor is frequently used to describe someone who oversees an exam or dormitory.The title is used in England in three principal senses:...

s only had the power to discipline "junior members" (those who had not been admitted to membership of Convocation), which meant that any graduate student who had incepted as an MA was immune from their authority. At Cambridge, MAs and those with MA status continue to be exempt from the rules governing the ownership of motor vehicles by students. Other privileges intended for academic staff and alumni, e.g. the right to dine at High Table, to attend Gaudies
Gaudy or gaudie is a term used to reflect student life in a number of the ancient universities in the United Kingdom...

, to walk upon college lawns, etc., are in most colleges restricted to MAs, which excludes the majority of graduate students.

For Cambridge, membership of the Senate is not limited to the MA any more and in 2000, Oxford opened membership of Convocation to all graduates. For Dublin, the right to elect senators in the Seanad Éireann is now restricted to those who are Irish citizens and they do not have to be MA to vote. Thus, the powers, role and significance of the MA degree has been greatly diminished for all three Universities.

Cambridge students are allowed to eat at high table for free a certain number of times per term with an MA.


The MA degree gives its holder a particular status in the universities' orders of precedence/seniority. In the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 a Master of Arts enjoys precedence, standing, and rank before all doctors, masters, and bachelors of the university who are not Masters of Arts, apart from Doctors of Divinity
Doctor of Divinity
Doctor of Divinity is an advanced academic degree in divinity. Historically, it identified one who had been licensed by a university to teach Christian theology or related religious subjects....

 and Doctors of Civil Law
Doctor of Civil Law
Doctor of Civil Law is a degree offered by some universities, such as the University of Oxford, instead of the more common Doctor of Laws degrees....

. However, members of the university with undergraduate masters degrees automatically gain the precedence of a Master of Arts 21 terms after matriculation. Precedence, standing, and rank were formerly important for determining eligibility for appointments such as fellowships, but now generally have only a ceremonial significance.

MA status

In Oxford, until 2000 the university statutes required that all members of Congregation
Congregation (university)
A Congregation is a formal meeting of senior members of a university, especially in the United Kingdom.Examples include the Regent House in the University of Cambridge, and the House of Congregation and the Ancient House of Congregation in the University of Oxford.In recent times, very few...

(the academic staff of the university) have at least the degree of DD, DM, DCL or MA or have MA status. This linked back to the MA as the licence to teach in the university. MA status was thus routinely granted to academics from other universities who came to take up positions within the university; while it is no longer granted in this way, many members of Congregation appointed before 2000 retain MA status.

In Cambridge, MA status is automatically accorded to graduates of other universities studying in Cambridge who are aged 24 or older (graduate students under 24 years are given BA status). This entitles them to wear the appropriate Cambridge gown, but without strings.

For the above cases, the status is not a degree so are automatically relinquished upon leaving the University (in the case of Oxford) or completion of their degree (for Cambridge).

External links