Oxbridge MAs are misleading, says agency

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The Independent Online

The Oxbridge master of arts degree is an "anachronism" and should be abolished, the higher education standards watchdog said yesterday.

The Oxbridge master of arts degree is an "anachronism" and should be abolished, the higher education standards watchdog said yesterday.

Oxbridge MAs are traditionally awarded upon request to all former students about four years after graduation. Yet nearly two-thirds of employers surveyed believed a Cambridge MA was awarded for postgraduate academic work, according to research carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

The ancient Scottish universities award MAs for undergraduate courses, yet 51 per cent of employers thought an Edinburgh MA was a postgraduate degree.

The survey, commissioned as part of a wholesale review of qualifications in higher education, comes after the bitter row over élitism in Britain's leading universities. The survey of 150 major employers found that 81 per cent thought qualifications confusing and 90 per cent wanted them reformed to ensure that equivalent titles were awarded for equivalent work.

John Randall, chief executive of the agency, said yesterday that the centuries-old Oxbridge MA was misleading and anachronistic. He said: "The same title must represent the same level of achievement, no matter which university of college awards it. Qualification titles must mean what they say."

Mr Randall said he hoped the Oxford and Cambridge authorities would reform their MA awards, but acknowledged that the inspectorate had no power to force a change. He said: "There's no course and there's nothing for us to look at. We don't have the ability to look at a programme of academic study if it doesn't exist."

A spokeswoman for Cambridge, which awards MAs six years after a student's first term at the university, said they were simply a university tradition. "Any employer interested in a graduate's postgraduate study at Cambridge would be able to tell what they had done from their curriculum vitae."

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