The system of academic degrees at the University of Oxford can be confusing to those not familiar with it. This is not merely because many degree titles date from the Middle Ages, but also because many changes have been haphazardly introduced in recent years. For example, the (medieval) BD, BM, BCL, etc. are postgraduate degrees, while the (modern) MPhys, MEng, etc. are undergraduate degrees.
In postnominals, "University of Oxford" is normally abbreviated "Oxon.", which is short for (Academia) Oxoniensis: e.g., MA (Oxon.), although within the university itself the abbreviation "Oxf" can be used.
The bachelor's degree is awarded soon after the end of the degree course (three or four years after matriculation). Until recently, all undergraduates studied for the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The BFA was introduced in 1978. Holders of the degrees of BA and BFA both proceed in time to the degree of Master of Arts (MA). Note that the BA is still awarded even for some science courses, such as the three-year Physics degree which also still adheres to the traditional degree classification structure, with only 30% of candidates being awarded an upper second class honours or above. The degree of Bachelor of Science (BSc) has never been awarded as an undergraduate degree at Oxford; it used to be awarded as a graduate qualification, however.
The BTh is awarded primarily to students of the various theological colleges and halls, such as Wycliffe Hall, St Stephen's House, Ripon College Cuddesdon and the former Westminster College, Oxford. Usually, these students are candidates for the ordained ministry of one of the mainstream Christian denominations, but may be drawn from any faith background or none at the discretion of the College or Hall. It should not be confused with the degree of bachelor of divinity (BD), which is a postgraduate degree.
The BEd was formerly awarded to students residing at Westminster College, Culham College of Education, the Lady Spencer Churchill College of Education, and Milton Keynes College of Education (formerly the North Buckinghamshire College of Education) who read concurrently at the university.
The UGAdvDip is a FHEQ Level 6 award which equivalent to the third year of undergraduate study, Undergraduate Advanced Diplomas only offered at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.
In the 1990s the following degrees were introduced to increase public recognition of the four-year undergraduate science programmes in these subjects:
The holders of these degrees have the academic precedence and standing of BAs until the twenty-first term from matriculation, when they rank as MAs. From 2014 graduates with these degrees wear the same academic gown as a Master of Studies, with a black silk hood lined with sand fabric. Previously the academic dress was simply the BA gown and hood, (from 2009, even after achieving MA status). In contrast, science undergraduates at Cambridge may be granted the additional degree of Master of Natural Sciences (MSci) while continuing to be awarded the BA (and the subsequent MA). Note that biology and physiology undergraduates are still awarded the BA/MA, as these are currently three-year courses. All other undergraduates, whether their degree courses last three years or four years, are awarded the BA/MA
The degree of Master of Arts is awarded to BAs and BFAs seven years after matriculation, without further examination, upon the payment of a nominal fee. Recipients of undergraduate master's degrees are not eligible to incept as MA, but are afforded the same privileges after the statutory twenty-one terms. This system dates from the Middle Ages, when the study of the liberal arts took seven years.
In medieval times a student could not study some subjects until he had completed his study in the liberal arts. These were known as the higher faculties. The degrees in Science and Letters were added in the 19th century, and the degree in Philosophy was added in 1914. The higher bachelor's degree programme is generally a taught programme of one or two years for graduates. In Medicine and Surgery this corresponds to the clinical phase of training, after which they are accorded the courtesy title "Doctor". The BD and BMus are open only to Oxford graduates who have done well in the BA examinations in divinity and music, respectively. The BPhil/MPhil is a part-taught, part-research degree which is often a stepping stone to the DPhil.
The MCh is the higher degree in surgery, and is awarded on similar conditions to higher doctorates such as the DM, e.g., ten years must have passed since the lower degree in the faculty. In medieval times the distinction between a master and doctor was not significant, and both words signified the higher degree in a faculty. The title "master" is used instead of "doctor", as surgeons in England are traditionally known as "Mr" rather than "Dr".
Due to pressure from employers and overseas applicants to conform with United States practice, which is also that of most other UK universities, the BLitt, BSc, and BPhil (in degrees other than philosophy) were re-titled master's degrees.
The MJur and MBA are awarded after taught courses, the MJur being the equivalent of the BCL for students from non-common-law backgrounds. The MSt is a one-year hybrid research/taught course which is the equivalent of the taught master's degree in most other UK universities. The MTh is an applied theology course for those intending to enter holy orders. The degree of Master of Education was formerly awarded to students at Westminster College, when that course was validated by the University.
Historically at the oldest universities in the world (University of Oxford and University of Cambridge), a Diploma was a postgraduate qualification but it has mostly been replaced by the more common master's degree. However, in some cases the naming remains unchanged for historically significant areas or very specialized curriculum (for instance, the Cambridge Diploma in Computer Science retains its archaic name due to its historical significance in the history of computer science). It depends on the programme. However, in many cases at Oxbridge, Diploma is a Master-level qualification and require a thesis (the naming Diploma is used in case of a very specialised area that through learning process is going to be deeply explored). E.g. Oxford: Diploma in Geography, J. N. L. Baker (1921), Diploma in Legal Studies, Barney Williams (2004).
Bachelors in the higher faculties other than Medicine can proceed to a doctorate in the same faculty without further examination, on presentation of evidence of an important contribution to their subject, e.g., published work, research, etc. Doctorates in the higher faculties may also be awarded honoris causa, i.e., as honorary degrees. It is traditional for the Chancellor to be made a DCL jure officio (by virtue of his office). Until the 19th century all bishops who had studied at Oxford were made DDs jure officio.
The DPhil is a research degree, modelled on the German and American PhD, that was introduced in 1914. Rather atypically, Oxford was the first university in the UK to accept this innovation.
Within each degree the holders are ranked by the date on which they proceeded to their degree. In the case of people who graduated on the same day they are ranked by alphabetical order.
If the Degree of Master of Biochemistry, or Chemistry, or Computer Science, or Earth Sciences, or Engineering, or Mathematics, or Mathematics and Computer Science, or Mathematics and Philosophy, or Physics, or Physics and Philosophy, is held together with a higher degree, the holder will rank in precedence equally with a person who holds the same higher degree together with the Degree of Master of Arts.