The term "honours degree" has different meanings in the context of different degrees and education systems. Most commonly it refers to a variant of the undergraduate bachelor's degree containing a larger volume of material or a higher standard of study, or both, than an "ordinary", "general" or "pass" bachelor's degree. Honours degrees are sometimes indicated by "Hons" after the degree abbreviation, with various punctuation according to local custom, e.g. "BA (Hons)", "B.A., Hons", etc.
Examples of honours degree include the honors bachelor's degree in the United States, the bachelor's degree with honours in the United Kingdom and India, the honours bachelor degree in Ireland, the honours bachelor's degree in Canada, and the bachelor honours degree in Australia. In South Africa the bachelor honours degree is a postgraduate degree that follows on from the completion of a bachelor's degree. The undergraduate master of arts degree awarded by the ancient universities of Scotland on place of the bachelor of arts may be awarded as an honours or non-honours degree, these are at the same level as equivalent bachelor's degrees. At master's level, the "integrated master's" degrees in British universities, which students enter at the same level as bachelor's degrees, are also honours degrees.
Many universities and colleges offer both honours and non-honours bachelor's degrees. In most countries where honours degrees are granted, they imply a higher level of achievement than a non-honours degree. In some countries (e.g. Canada or Australia), an honours degree may also involve a longer period of study than a non-honours degree. Students who complete all the requirements for a non-honours bachelor's degree but do not receive sufficient merit to be awarded the honours degree would normally be awarded the non-honours degree (also known as a "pass", "general" or "ordinary" degree). In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, almost all bachelor's degrees are awarded as honours degrees; in contrast, honours degrees are rarely awarded in the United States.
The current British undergraduate degree classification system, with its division into first, upper and lower second, and third class honours, was developed in 1918 to distinguish between students on the basis of their academic achievement. The concept of an "honours" degree goes back a lot further than this, however, with there being examinations for honours in the original regulations of the University of London in 1839, and Nevil Maskelyne being recorded as taking a bachelor's degree with honours at Cambridge in 1754. Other countries influenced by this system include Australia, Brunei, Canada, New Zealand, Malta, Singapore, South Africa and Hong Kong.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Bachelor's degrees are normally awarded "with Honours" after three years of study. The Bachelor's degree with Honours meets the descriptor for a higher education qualification at level 6 of the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in full, and is a first cycle, end-of-cycle award on the Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area established by the Bologna process. Students can be awarded an "Ordinary" degree if they achieve the required learning outcomes over a smaller volume of studies than is required for an honours degree, e.g. only passing 300 credits rather than the 360 usually required for an honours degree. In addition to bachelor's degrees, four year integrated master's degrees, which combine study at bachelor's and master's level, are also awarded 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'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-quality research 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 highly 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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