Naming of Master’s Degrees

The following report from the Senate Academic Policy Committee was received by the Senate for information on 20 April 2005.

Memo to: Senate
From: Senate Academic Policy Committee


The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies was established by the Board of Governors upon the recommendation of Senate in February 1949. In 1986, the legislative and administrative authority, regarding graduate programs in all matters concerning admission, scholarships, programs and examinations, was vested in the Graduate Council. Until September 2004, all Master’s programs at UBC were graduate programs under the governance of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. At the September 2004 meeting of Senate, responsibility for four professional degree programs (Pharm.D., M.Eng., MBA and M.M.) was transferred to the disciplinary Faculties. Questions surrounding the transfer prompted the Policy Committee of Senate to strike a subcommittee to explore the naming of UBC Master’s Degrees.

A sub-committee of the Senate Academic Policy Committee was formed, composed of John Gilbert, Paul Harrison, Rob Tierney and chaired by Ann Rose with Jim Thompson, Chair of the Graduate Council Policy Committee as ex officio. The subcommittee has sought input from the broader academic community and in particular the Deans of each of the disciplinary faculties.

There are three general categories of Master’s degrees given at UBC:

1. Thesis-Based Master’s:

In 1996, Dean John Grace defined a research Master’s degree as one awarded in programs where a research thesis represents the major output of the program, and a professional degree as awarded in programs where there is no research thesis. At the December 4, 2003 meeting of the Graduate Council of Senate a motion was passed to define a research Master’s as “a Master’s degree requiring submission of a thesis to the Faculty of Graduate Studies. The thesis is to be a formal scholarly report of a particular subject.” Listed with the definition will be the following:

The thesis is to undergo a significant adjudication process and is to demonstrate the student’s:

  • familiarity with and understanding of previous work in the field,
  • ability to design and carry-out a research project,
  • ability to organize and clearly present the research results obtained,
  • ability to critically evaluate and draw conclusions about the work and to relate it to knowledge in the field,
  • ability to present the thesis in good literary style.

The following degree names are currently used for thesis-based degrees awarded by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (not a comprehensive list): MA (Arts), MASA (Arts), MASLA (Agriculture), MAP (G+PS), MFA (Arts), MF (Forestry), MHSc (Medicine), MASc (Applied Science), MMus (Arts), MSc (Science), MScB (Sauder), MSN (Applied Science), MSCP (G+PS), LLM (Law). The recommendation of the Academic Policy Committee is that thesis-based Master’s degrees carry a limited number of degree names. On the parchment following the degree name will be printed the name of the Graduate Program and discipline where appropriate.

Professional Master’s

Currently, there is no academic definition of what constitutes a professional Master’s degree. For the purposes of discussion, the subcommittee looked at Dean Chant’s report on Professional vocations in the Organization of the University adopted January 7, 1949. Some of the points raised in this report may be useful in identifying professional Master’s programs, for example: 1) the courses are mainly professional or vocational in character, 2) there is a specialized curriculum leading to a distinctive degree, 3) policies do not generally affect policies in other departments, 4) there exists a relationship with an outside profession resulting in professional requirements being considered in the curriculum.

We recommend that the degree name for a professional Master’s program adhere to national and international standards in that profession. Although this is more or less the current practice, it is not necessarily true for many of our Master’s. In future, new professional programs would need to document how the proposed name meets the nationally- and internationally-accepted professional standard.

Course Based Master’s

A third category of Master’s degrees exists at UBC: course-based Master’s. Although this is a category with growing popularity, there are currently no consistent academic criteria, nor nomenclature. They do not meet the definition of thesis-based Master’s nor are all of these programs professional Master’s. The Senate Policy Committee recommends that they not carry the identical degree name as a thesis-based Master’s.


We feel that systematic naming of Master’s degrees at UBC could be helpful in readily identifying the type of program completed.

Ann Rose, SubCommittee Chair
5 December 2004

This information is for quick reference. For the full text of the Minutes of Senate, which include the motions and discussion, please see the Minutes Archive.