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’s 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, Malta, Singapore, South Africa and Hong Kong were influenced by this system.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, Bachelor's degrees are normally awarded "with Honours" after three years of study. Some universities may require the completion of a dissertation in the third year. Students can be awarded a pass (or ordinary) degree, usually if they achieve final examination marks below those required for third class honours, but not poor enough for outright failure. This could also result from a failed dissertation, or a degree awarded to a student who was prevented from taking the final examination because of illness (an Aegrotat). There are also four-year undergraduate Master's degrees with Honours. At some universities, Staffordshire University for example, the Honours degree was merely the non-honours degree with a 1-year work placement during the 3rd year.
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's 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.
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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