Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe
marypcb

The usual rubbish about 'buying' a Masters at Oxbridge: well, I bought mine, I should know it's real

A friend managed to make my blood boil in seconds today by sending a link to a Labour MP (with an MA from the University of Leeds) spouting off the usual rubbish about how you can buy an Oxbridge MA for a tenner and it's Byzantine privilege.

The reason that you get an MA or Msc for your degree at Oxford or Cambridge is that you do the amount and depth of work required for both an MA and a BA as part of your course. Take classics: literae humaniores as Oxford Byzantinely still calls it (perhaps on the grounds that if you don't know what that means you shouldn't be studying the subject). When I took it it was a four year course, split into 5 terms followed by 13 exams in a week and 7 terms followed by about the same number of exams in about the same amount of time (plus exams at the beginning of every term for checking you had done your vacation reading, plus tutorials, essays, seminars, lectures and the rest) - I haven't kept up with whether the balance has shifted to continuous assessment but with two essays a week plus the seminar and group tutorial work on top of that I'd have been happy to get some course credit as I went along.

The teaching at Oxford is primarily one to one, in tutorials. You're expected to provide evidence of original thought and research and to discuss and defend that. As well as the main subject strands you take multiple special subjects in both halves of the course, producing the equivalent of a short dissertation for each. I know the level of work and the grade at which you're working is equivalent to a masters at another university - because I went on to do an Msc in Intelligent knowledge based systems at the University of Essex and I think a lot of the reason I got a distinction in a subject where I had no previous qualifications was that I was already used to functioning at post graduate level because I'd been doing it for over two years. I earned my masters - both of them.

And I know the scope of my degree was equivalent to a BA and MA elsewhere because of the conversation a friend on the same course had when she thought she was only going to get a pass degree and wanted to look into transferring to another university at the end of her first year (so 3 terms into the 5 term first half of the degree). She interviewed at a university with an excellent reputation for its classics department and they said to here 'it's not worth you coming here; you've already covered more than we do in our entire three year syllabus'.

My MA is worth a damn site more than the fiver I paid for it and fixating on the admin charge is rather missing the point (I paid admin charges higher than that at Essex). Oxford and Cambridge award masters degrees because their undergraduates earn them. Perhaps we should be asking other universities to raise their standards? If other universities want to match a historical accident it might be hard for them to do in the current climate but that's no reason to ask Oxbridge to dumb down. Or perhaps we could agree that a spectrum of further education from vocational to standard undergraduate to more demanding degrees is a good thing and that this attack is more about the chip on someone's shoulder than the actual merits of the Oxbridge system?

Tags: education, politics, rant
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