Master of Philosophy

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The Master of Philosophy (M.Phil. or MPhil, sometimes Ph.M.) is an advanced postgraduate research degree.

The prerequisites required for a Master of Philosophy degree make it the most advanced research degree before the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D. or D.Phil.).[1] An M.Phil. is in most cases thesis-only, and is regarded as a senior or second master's degree, standing between a taught Master's and a Ph.D.[2] An M.Phil. may be awarded to graduate students, after completing several years of original research but before the defence of a dissertation, and can serve as a provisional enrollment for a Ph.D.

United States[edit]

Although most American universities do not award the M.Phil., a few award it under certain circumstances. At those institutions (most notably Yale University, Columbia University, and more recently the CUNY Graduate Center), the degree is awarded to Ph.D. candidates when they complete their required coursework and qualifying examinations prior to the completion and defense of a doctoral dissertation. This recognizes achievement beyond the Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees conferred after 1–3 years of graduate study and formalizes the more colloquial "All But Dissertation" status; as such, defense of a dissertation proposal is sometimes required for conferral.

Many Ph.D. candidates at these universities view the M.Phil. as a formality and elect not to receive it in order to avoid the paperwork and costs involved. However, some programs do not offer an en route M.A. or M.S., so the M.Phil. is the first opportunity to receive a degree between the bachelor's and Ph.D; others may elect not to take the nominally lower M.A. or M.S. degree in favor of the M.Phil. or the Ph.D itself. Some colleges and universities, such as the College of the Atlantic, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Utah, offer a standalone M.Phil. degree in various fields. There are also a number of colleges and universities, such as Georgia State University, Texas Tech University, Tufts University, and Oklahoma State University[3] that have terminal M.A. programs.


Master of Philosophy is offered by many Universities in Australia, and are often the only option to undertake a master's degree in select schools. In the University of Western Australia, for example, the School of Mathematics offers the Master of Philosophy. In Australia, the Masters of Philosophy is a research degree which mirrors a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in breadth of research and structure, and is assessed solely on the basis of a thesis. A standard full-time degree often takes 2 years to complete.[4]

The University of Queensland offers Masters of Philosophy in a variety of schools such as Arts, Engineering, Medicine, and Agriculture.[5] The University of Sydney, Curtin University, Griffith University, and Melbourne University are also examples of Australian Universities offering Masters of Philosophy.[6][7][8][9]


Very few Canadian universities offer M.Phil. degrees. Among their number, however, is Memorial University of Newfoundland's interdisciplinary two-year M.Phil. in Humanities.

United Kingdom[edit]

In most UK universities, completion of a M.Phil. typically requires two years of full-time or five years or more of part-time study (being five or seven years from initially entering university) and the submission of a thesis comprising a body of original research undertaken by the candidate.

It is common for students admitted into a Ph.D. program at a UK university to be initially registered for the degree of M.Phil., and then to transfer (or upgrade) onto the Ph.D. upon successful completion of the first (or sometimes the second) year of study: this will often involve the submission of a short report or dissertation by the student, and possibly an oral examination or presentation. In addition, most universities allow examiners to recommend award of a M.Phil. if a Ph.D. candidate's thesis is deemed not to be of the requisite length for a doctorate.[1] However many students register for a M.Phil. with no intention of upgrading to a Ph.D., due to personal circumstances, due to their chosen research project having insufficient scope for a Ph.D. or due to desiring to complete a slightly shorter qualification both in length and duration.

At a few UK universities, a M.Phil. research degree can be achieved after only one year of study and is viewed as being equivalent to a taught M.A. or M.Sc. degree.

However, in some institutions, such as University College London and the University of Aberdeen, a clear set of requirements must be met for the award of a M.Phil, under which candidates are required to submit and defend a thesis against external and internal examiners, a process which may in itself take up to a year, and, as such, the award may be regarded as a mini-PhD.[2] For example, the degree of Master of Philosophy of the University of Aberdeen requires the submission of a thesis of up to 70,000 words plus a viva examination; this is a considerably larger piece of work than is required for the same qualification at other institutions.[3]

Furthermore, at the University of Manchester, the candidate may also be required by the examiners to undergo a written or other examination. Each candidate shall be examined by two or more examiners of whom at least one shall be an external examiner.[10]

Oxford and Cambridge Universities[edit]

At Oxford University, the M.Phil. is usually a two-year master's degree, although some programs are one-year.[11] The M.Phil. requires both a lengthy thesis and more examinations than a one-year master's degree (such as M.Sc., M.St.).

Cambridge University offers the M.Phil. as a one-year master's degree program.[12] This is to distinguish it from the Oxbridge M.A. degree, to which B.A. graduates usually proceed after a certain period of time without any further study (a procedure which has been followed at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin since the seventeenth century). The Cambridge M.Phil. can be either a taught degree or a research-based degree, depending on the course.

Ancient Scottish universities[edit]

The ancient Scottish universities, who for historical reasons award the Scottish M.A. degree upon completion of four-year first degree programs in arts and humanities subjects, differ in their use of M.Phil. or M.Litt. for postgraduate research degrees, but are slowly standardizing to the M.Phil. as a research degree and the M.Litt. as a taught degree.

Netherlands and Belgium[edit]

In the Netherlands and Belgium the M.Phil. is a special research degree and only awarded by selected departments of a university (mostly in the fields of Arts, Social Sciences, Archaeology, Philosophy and Theology). Admission to these programmes is highly selective and primarily aimed at those students opting for an academic career. After finishing these programs, students normally enroll for a Ph.D. program. The Dutch Department of Education, Culture and Science has decided not to recognize the MPhil degree. Accordingly, some Dutch universities have decided to continue to grant the MPhil degree but also offer a legally recognized degree such as MA or MSc to those who receive the MPhil degree.[13][14]


In Norway, the degree of MPhil is a 'standard' Master's degree (120 ECTS credits) at a level equivalent to an MA or MSc. Upon completion, the MPhil qualifies for acceptance to a PhD program, but is most often taken as a stand-alone qualification. The MPhil is not a common degree in Norway; most universities award MA (in humanities or social sciences) or MSc (in technical and scientific subjects) degrees.[15]


In Finland, the regular (first) Master's degree filosofian maisteri translates to "Master of Philosophy". However, the term "philosophy" is to be understood to the maximum extent, because this is the name of the basic master's degree in all natural sciences and humanities. It does not imply a specialization in theoretical philosophy or even other than introductory studies. In fact, most of the students majoring in philosophy get a degree with a different name (Master of Sociology or Politics). These degrees are regular master's degrees, not special "higher" degrees (cf. Licentiate and Doctor of Philosophy).

In the past, filosofian maisteri signified that the degree was earned through actual studying, in contrast to honorary master's degrees that could be granted by application to Bachelors.


In Malaysia, the M.Phil. degree is not well known. There are only a handful of universities in Malaysia that offer M.Phil. program, such as Universiti Malaya, Wawasan Open University, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), Monash University Sunway Campus (MUSC) and others. In most cases, M.Phil. is a pure research degree and from case to case basis, it will result in viva voce examination before the degree is awarded. For UNMC and MUSC, the Faculty of Engineering offer standalone M.Phil. degree which will lead the path to Ph.D. and normally regarded as a more prestigious master's degree than typical taught master's degree such as M.Sc. or M.Eng.. In the case for University Malaya, if the desired field of research does not belong to any of the specialized faculties, it is normally categorized under the M.Phil. supervised by the Postgraduate Institute.

In November 2012, Malaysian Qualifications Agency has issued programme standards for postgraduate studies in which MPhil is attributed to Master programme by research and mixed mode (coursework and research).[16]


In Spain, the M.Phil degree is equivalent to the Diploma de Estudios Avanzados, or DEA. In order to obtain it, the student has to complete a full year of doctoral courses, plus an original research work.

See also[edit]