The term Honours degree has different meanings for different degrees. Most commonly it is an award in connection with undergraduate Bachelor's degree variations. For example, in the United States, the four-year Honors Bachelor's degree or in the United Kingdom, the three-year Bachelor (with) Honours degree (four years in Scotland), is sometimes indicated by "(Hons)" after the degree abbreviation. It also refers to the rare "postgraduate" consecutive Bachelor's degree With Honours or Baccalaureatus Cum Honore degree with the requirement to first complete a Bachelor's degree. In Canada it is abbreviated either "BA hon." or "BSc hon." Very rarely is the term used for the Master's degree; for example, the four-year undergraduate degree at Ancient Scottish universities is abbreviated "MA (Hons)".
Many universities and colleges offer both honours and non-honours Bachelor's degree variation. In most countries, using the undergraduate Honours grading system, the term "Honours" (or "Honors" in the United States) is an academic distinction, which indicates that students must achieve their bachelor's degree with a sufficiently high overall grade point average. In addition, some programs may require more education than non-honours programs. Students who complete all the requirements for an Honours Bachelor's degree but do not receive sufficient merit to be awarded Honours will be awarded the non-honours Bachelor's degree variation in the same field of studies (also known as Minors, Majors, Pass or Ordinary Bachelor's degree), abbreviated "B.A." or "B.Sc." In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, almost all bachelor's degrees are awarded as Honours degrees; a student achieving a passing grade below honours standard also earns the Bachelor's degree, but without the honours distinction.
The "postgraduate" Bachelor's degree With Honours or Baccalaureatus Cum Honore degree is a consecutive academic degree. It’s the continuation of a completed (Honours) Bachelor degree program in the same field. It requires a minimum of one year of study but may also take longer. The degree allowing students to plan to go on to very high research. It is essential if students' ultimate goal is to study toward a two- or three-year very high research master's degree qualification. A student holding a Baccalaureatus Cum Honore degree also may choose to complete a doctorate or Ph.D. degree program without the requirement to first complete a Master's degree. Students are required to undertake a longer high research empirical thesis (Honours Seminar Thesis) combined with a selection of courses from the relevant field of studies. In several universities in some countries, for example, in Canada Baccalaureatus Cum Honore programs have been changed to corresponding Master's degree programs.
The term "Honours degree" was originally used in the UK in 1918 when a full British undergraduate degree classification system was developed to distinguish different types of students based on their academic achievements. Other Commonwealth or non-Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and Hong Kong were influenced by this system.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, a Bachelor's degree with Honours is awarded after three years of studies and often requires the completion of a dissertation in the third year. Students can choose be awarded a pass (or ordinary) degree. This can result from a failed dissertation, low marks or a degree awarded to a student who has suffered from illness (an Aegrotat). There are also four-year undergraduate Master's degrees with Honours.
In Scotland, all undergraduate degrees with Honours must be of four-year duration. Students can choose to do the Honours degree or the general (or pass/ordinary) degree. The first two years of both types of degrees are the same; however, after that, students who pursue the Honours route will complete more advanced subjects and a dissertation in their last year, while students who choose to do the general degree will complete their third year at a lower level of specialisation.
Entry into the Honours year in Scotland is generally not restricted and students are encouraged to take the Honours year as the general/ordinary/pass degree does not provide the same level of depth and specialisation.
Students enrolling in the Honours program but failing to achieve the required academic merit for Honours are awarded a pass/ordinary/general degree.
The consecutive Australian with Honours degree is usually a one- to two-year research program, after the completion of a Bachelor's degree in the same field. It can also be started as a concurrent program in the fourth year of a four-year Bachelor's degree. It is generally considered a postgraduate year because a bachelor degree can be completed without it. Entry to an Honours degree generally requires proven abilities and a distinction (75% or greater) average in the relevant area or the final year units, and even then is quite competitive.
In the regular (standalone) Honours, the student will complete selected courses within a supervised program of research (field, laboratory, or secondary), and produce a long, high-research quality thesis. This is usually accompanied by a seminar or presentation of the findings to an academic board for marking. In the case of a quality thesis being produced, it may be published in a peer-reviewed journal or similar publication. Students receiving high marks in their Honours program have the option of continuing to candidature of a Doctoral program, such as Doctor of Philosophy, without having to complete a Master's degree.
Graduates from Australian universities who want to do their Master's degrees in the UK are required to hold Honours degrees as most postgraduate programs in the UK require a minimum of Second Class Honours upon entry. According to the University of Cambridge, a four-year Bachelor's degree from an Australian institution with an average of First Class or High Distinction is considered equivalent to the British First Class Honours, while an average of Second Class Honours Division A or Distinction is considered equivalent to the British Upper Second Class Honours. Imperial College London also states that they only accept Honours degrees and are not able to accept Bachelor's degrees.
Significantly, Monash University introduced a Master of Business with Honours program in which students can be awarded an Honours classification upon completion.
In South Africa, non-professional bachelor's degrees (BA, BSc, BCom) are three year degrees (professional degrees such as engineering degrees or medicine are longer). The honours degree is an optional fourth-year and is an additional one-year qualification. Usually the honours degree specialises in one subject matter (e.g., mathematics, English). Intake into the honours degree is often selective. The bachelor's degree is at level 7 and the honours degree at level 8 on the National Qualifications Framework of the South African Qualifications Authority. Research components must comprise at least 25% of the honours degree.
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