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Guest Mary S

History : Twenty-first century

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Guest Mary S

In 2000 renewed pressure was put on Oxbridge MAs in the UK Parliament, with Labour MP Jackie Lawrence introducing an early day motion calling for them to be scrapped and telling the Times Higher Education it was a "discriminatory practice" and that it "devalues and undermines the efforts of students at other universities". The following month the Quality Assurance Agency announced the results of a survey of 150 major employers showing nearly two thirds mistakenly thought the Cambridge MA was a postgraduate qualification and just over half made the same error regarding the Edinburgh MA, with QAA chief executive John Randall calling the Oxbridge MA "misleading and anachronistic".

The QAA released the first "framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland" in January 2001. This specified learning outcomes for M-level (master's) degrees and advised that the title "Master" should only be used for qualifications that met those learning outcomes in full. It addressed many of the Dearing Report's concerns, specifying that shorter courses at H-level (honours), e.g. conversion courses, should be styled Graduate Diploma or Graduate Certificate rather than as master's degrees, but confirmed that the extended undergraduate degrees were master's degrees, saying that "Some Masters degrees in science and engineering are awarded after extended undergraduate programmes that last, typically, a year longer than Honours degree programmes". It also addressed the Oxbridge MA issue, noting that "the MAs granted by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are not academic qualifications". The first "framework for qualifications of Higher Education Institutes in Scotland", also published in January 2001, used the same qualifications descriptors, adding in credit values that specified that a stand-alone master should be 180 credits and a "Masters (following an integrated programme from undergraduate to Masters level study)" should be 600 credits with a minimum of 120 at M-level. It was specified that the title "Master" should only be used for qualifications that met the learning outcomes and credit definitions, although it was noted that "A small number of universities in Scotland have a long tradition of labelling certain first degrees as 'MA'. Reports of Agency reviews of such provision will relate to undergraduate benchmarks and will make it clear that the title reflects Scottish custom and practice, and that any positive judgement on standards should not be taken as implying that the outcomes of the programme were at postgraduate level."

The Bologna declaration in 1999 started the Bologna Process, leading to the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). This established a three-cycle bachelor's—master's—doctorate classification of degrees, leading to the adoption of master's degrees across the continent, often replacing older long-cycle qualifications such as the Magister (arts), Diplom (sciences) and state registration (professional) awards in Germany. As the process continued, descriptors were introduced for all three levels in 2004, and ECTS credit guidelines were developed. This led to questions as to the status of the integrated master's degrees and one-year master's degrees in the UK. However, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutes in Scotland have both been aligned with the overarching framework for the EHEA with these being accepted as master's-level qualifications.

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