MP challenges ‘free’ MA degrees

Proposal to eliminate the ‘free’ Oxbridge MA

Entertaining attempt this by Chris Leslie (my local MP). He recently introduced a short ‘ten minute rule Bill’ in the Commons (the Master’s Degree (Minimum Standards) Bill). The Bill seeks to prohibit Oxford and Cambridge Universities from automatically awarding a ‘free’ postgraduate Master’s degree to anyone who left with a BA(Hons), whereas anyone else who wants an MA must actually study for a full year, sit exams and pay rather more in fees than is required for the Oxbridge award.

The Hansard exchanges give a flavour of a good natured but, you fear, sadly doomed proposition:

Eleven years ago, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education said:

    “The Masters title causes much misunderstanding… most employers think it always represents an award for postgraduate study.”

There is no logical or justifiable defence of that historical anachronism, which grew out of ancient circumstances that have long been irrelevant to modern academic practice. To preserve the MA’s academic integrity, it is time to discontinue Oxbridge colleges’ ability to award unearned qualifications that can so easily cause confusion. That is why my short Bill would prohibit granting master’s degrees unless certain minimum academic standards are attained.

So, a worthy effort by Chris Leslie. Whilst it would be unfortunate if Parliament were to think it was appropriate to legislate for or against particular autonomous institutions’ awards, this should serve as a reminder that this really should be sorted out.

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