International Comparison of Academic Qualifications (External and Internal)

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Scott Henley, Feb 12, 2002.

  1. Scott Henley

    Scott Henley New Member

    I have been visiting this site for quite some time, however, just recently registered so I could post.

    I am a curious about the equivalency of American and British academic qualifications (external or internal) and some assumptions made about them.

    Living in Canada and being quite familiar with the British education system I noticed that many people were comparing American and British degrees at the same level.

    An American BA/BS degree is not the equivalent of a British BS/BSc degree, nor are the respective master's and doctorate degrees.

    This is a general guideline and will vary from course to course:

    British HNC = American Associate Degree
    British HND/Pass Bachelor's Degree = American Bachelor's Degree
    British Honours Bachelor's Degree = American Master's Degree
    British Master's Degree = American Doctorate Degree
    British Doctorate Degree = American Higher Doctorate

    When British students enter university they are generally at the level of entering Junior-Level (YEAR 3 UNIVERSITY) American students. Thus, British A-Levels generally cover YEAR ONE and YEAR TWO of American universities.

    The British PhD thesis is a much more comprehensive piece of work than the American PhD thesis. The American PhD thesis is more inline with the British MPhil or MSc-by research thesis. By the time British students are ready to do a PhD, these have all the specialised coursework they need to complete it.

    Also, I noticed that some people were talking about doing an PhD by research through "distance education" and thought to clarify the issue somewhat. British universities usually require a minimum residency of (more or less) 30 WORKING DAYS per year for a part-time PhD which can span 5-6 years. This means a total of 150 - 180 working days over the span of the program. Pretty comparable to an American 3-4 year full-time program when you add it up in actual hours since full-time residency is usually only required during the first year or two.

    When you factor in the cost of the flights, accomodation, food, transporatation and overall hassle, you're much better off reading for a degree locally.

    Some people are looking at Australian and South African degrees. Well, I suppose this is fine if you actually live there, but try explaining an Australian or South African degree on your resume! British degrees are very international, and so are American, but the value from a SA or Australian degree in North America or Europe is questionable.
  2. drwetsch

    drwetsch New Member


    I think your reply is BS of the non-academic kind.

    What is your basis for claiming that a British masters is the equivalent of an American doctorate and the British is the equivalent of a higher doctorate? This is nonsense.

    As for Australian degrees -- I completed an Australian Master of Astronomy via DL and did not need to explain it away. I was asked to teach astronomy at a local RA college.

  3. As a product of the British secondary education system myself (with 4 “A” grades in the 1975 Oxford & Cambridge A-level exams), and having taught undergraduates at a top-tier U.S. university, I must say that this statement is ludicrous.

    Also ludicrous, at least for technical and scientific fields where U.S. dissertations are significantly stronger than those from the U.K. This is why U.S. science leads the world!
  4. Bruce

    Bruce Moderator

    Why is it, then, that every Master's program to which I applied specified that an applicant have either a US RA Bachelor's degree, or the equivalent, specifically naming the British Honours Bachelor's as an example?

  5. Yan

    Yan New Member

    It is interesting to read that a British Honours Bachelor's Degree is tantamount to an American Master's Degree. Unlike Australian and South African universities, British Honours bachelor's degree is granted by basing on the academic results rather than additional coursework of students. As far as I know, almost all of the UK students get their degree in honours (e.g. 1st class, 2nd upper, 2nd lower, 3rd class etc). In other words, a British pass bachelor degree may be a 'recommended' pass degree.

    In Australia and South Africa, an honours bachelor degree represents one year full-time studies (or 2 years part-time studies) in addition to ordinary bachelor degree. It may equivalent to a half of master degree.

    I am not sure if it is possible for one with a British Honours bachelor degree, without a master degree, to study for an American PhD. Of course, it is possible for one with a British Honours bacholer degree (generally with 1st class or 2nd upper)to study for a British PhD.
  6. Guest

    Guest Guest


    Ph.D., Edith Cowan University. :D
  7. chrissy

    chrissy New Member

    Is a advanced diploma from a british university the equivalent of a us bachelor's degree?
  8. Scott Henley

    Scott Henley New Member


    British students enter university after the completion of A-Levels which are at least equivalent to the first year (maybe two, depending on the program) of American university studies.

    A British Higher National Diploma (HND) is a two-year course of full-time study after the completion of A-Levels, which, at the very least, would be equivalent to 3 years of American university.

    Remember, there is a huge difference between the American and British academic systems. An American student will study literature, history, philosophy, reading and writing as part of a "liberal education" component throughout the length of a four-year degree program (however, a little more concentrated during the first and second years). British students usually do not study this liberal education component, which is left to secondary school academic preparation. There is no literacy problem when a British student enters university.

    British university HND's and degrees are very focused in a specific field of endeavour. There is no "major" in a British university degree; the whole degree is the focus. This is why a British honours degree is adequate preparation for doctoral studies.

    A British HND is adequate preparation to enter a British MA/MSc program, which in turn can lead to a PhD. An American Associate Degree will not allow entrance to a masters program (and in some cases maybe not even a bachelor's program without loss of credit!)

    A British HND is generally equivalent to the last two years of an American bachelor's degree (again, depending on the discipline). That is why a three-year British honours degree is really equivalent to five years of American university (roughly that of a master's degree). A British master's degree with it's 40,000 - 60,000 word thesis is getting pretty close to an American doctorate in terms of scholarly work.

    Also, don't forget that some of the older American institutions (like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc...) that were founded on the British system before America even existed are not exactly "American Style" and produce graduates that had excellent high-school achievement and are not playing catch-up when they enter.
  9. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    Sounds to me like you already have some pretty firm opinions about these things.

    If British degrees are "higher" than their American counterparts, you would expect to see differences in how they are recognized and in how those possessing them perform after graduation.

    I think that on the level of utility and recognition, you are clearly wrong. When universities or other employers require an applicant to possess a Ph.D., they don't accept masters degrees, even if the degrees are British. The same thing is true in community college hiring, a British BA(hon.) doesn't meet the MA requirement.

    So I guess that you are arguing that employers and the public SHOULD make such a distinction, even if they actually don't.

    On the performance level, I guess that American university graduates manage to muddle along. They win a good share of Nobel prizes, publish a tremendous volume of scholarship in the journals and create innovative new industries such as Silicon Valley. I think that American university graduates make a good showing in practically all fields of human endeavor. And that's the point, isn't it?

    Why do you say that? Why would a British degree be better received here in the United States than an Australian degree? Because it's British? I don't think so. Americans see both the UK and Australia as having outstanding higher educational systems, but I don't think that they favor one over the other. The only exception to that would probably be Oxford and Cambridge.

    I think that if an American earned any degree without having resided in the place the degree was granted, the issue of distance education can arise. That happens here at home too. If I got a masters by DL from the University of Hawaii, any interviewer would be sure to ask me about what it was like living under the palms in Hawaii.
  10. Scott Henley

    Scott Henley New Member

    Nobel Prizes

    Here's a little research to conduct. Get a list of all the American Nobel Prize winners, determine where the acquired their secondary school and undergraduate education (and sometimes master's education)... you'll notice a disproportinately large quantity of foreign undergraduate educated people. Then use simple mathematical principles to determine if a correlation exists.
  11. drwetsch

    drwetsch New Member

    Re: Nobel Prizes


    What Canadian or British university did you get your degree(s) from?

    Let's see on the Nobel Dept. --

    22 alumni from MIT
    37 alumni from Columbia (Oxford only reports 29 Alumni Laureates)
    11 alumni from Cornell
    10 alumni from U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne

    You can do your own look into other major Nobel contributers from Harvard, U. Chicago, CalTech, Stanford, John Hopkins, Berkeley, Princeton, U. Penn., and others and do the math. In addition you will find that many of those who were faculty at these instutions had earned American degrees from other institutions.

    Start your search at:

    We do see that British bachelor degrees are equivalent to the "kandidaatintutkinto"

    This site tell about UK qualifications:

    You will find a more unbiased discussion of graduate credentials here: and I would say it is import to point out that the UK master's is not equated to the American Ph.D. This sites points more to the differences in program style.

    Scott, I still want to know what your opinions are based on?


    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 13, 2002
  12. mamorse

    mamorse New Member

    Re: Re: Nobel Prizes

    Now, John - don't cloud the issue with facts! :D
  13. Scott Henley

    Scott Henley New Member



    Why is it so unbelievable that British degrees might be a little more advanced than American? I'm not saying that a British bachelor's degree is equivalent to an American doctorate, but I am saying that because of the higher-level secondary school education, the Brits are a step ahead.

    The American secondary school system is 4 years in length. Where do you account for the 2 years of British secondary school A-Levels in the American educational system? They do not exist.

    Therefore, by the time a British high school student graduates, he/she has completed 2 years of university-level education. Coupled with a 3 or 4 year honours degree, this is 5 or 6 years of university-level education. Assuming all else is equal, it's just a matter of years put in. Simple math.
  14. CLSeibel

    CLSeibel Member


    You certainly have presented some colourful claims here.

    I must join with the others here who have expressed a desire to learn about what sort of academic background contributes to your reaching these conclusions. Certainly you are drawing upon more than your merely being Canadian as your basis for claiming to possess such intimate knowledge of both the American and British systems. As one who has earned an American bachelor's degree, and who currently is near the completion of a UK master's degree, I must submit that I find your claims to be quite unfounded and lacking correspondence with reality.

    There certainly is some truth to the notion that the British and American systems do not precisely parallel one another. However, most British scholars with whom I am acquainted would suggest that, while the precise paths to attaining this level of scholarly achievement may differ between the two educational cultures, an American PhD and a UK PhD are basically the same thing in terms of discipline-specific expertise and research capability.

    In addition, I'm afraid that there is no basis for suggesting that institutions like Princeton and Harvard reflect an academic model closer to the British system than the American system. Those who have been affiliated with these institutions, I'm confident, would wish to strongly take issue with this assertion. In actuality, rather than being less like the American system, it is quite accurate to state that these institutions represent the American system in its fullest, richest manifestation.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 13, 2002
  15. Lawrie Miller

    Lawrie Miller New Member

    Remarkable, I could have written this myself. In fact, come to think of it, I did. Scott Henley: is of course absolutely correct in his conclusions. This issue has been debated ad nauseam both here and in AED, and always elicits strong visceral reactions. As one who has experience of both systems from "O'level (now GCSE), "A" level, through undergraduate and at graduate level, there is no doubt in my mind, based on first hand practical in-the-trenches experience, that Scott's analysis and the Dearing analysis, and the British Council's original analysis, are all correct.

    It should be noted that as a holder of US degrees, I have nothing to gain by promoting UK credentials at the expense American credentials. However, the facts seem pretty clear based on course by course analyses, level for level.

    It has been pointed out that foreign institutions, including British institutions, will accept US regionally accredited bachelor degrees for the purposes of entry into their graduate programs (in UK speak = postgraduate programs). That is quite true, and I found no difficulty gaining acceptance (and in one case, advanced entry) into Australian and UK master's programs on the basis of my US degrees (DL exam-based degrees at that). However, that speaks to the utility of these degrees, and does not necessarily address the question of their real relative academic level.

    Had I not had the benefit of first hand experience level for level of both systems, I too might well feel aggrieved if some bozo offered the proposition that their's was bigger or better than mine. That is only natural.

    My experience is that at master's level and beyond, post university, and with a couple of years experience, US graduates are just as effective as their British counterparts. That is, things start to even out once graduates enter employment.

    Nevertheless, on the narrow issue of academic equivalence degree level for degree level, Scott is right.

    Writing in AED in 1999

    From: Lawrie Miller
    Subject: Re: Univ of London
    Date: 1999/11/14


    As I've tried to point out in more than a few posts, A-Level mathematics
    is, in my opinion, based on a comparative survey of U.S. college courses,
    at about U.S. sophomore year level, i.e. 200 course level.

    Degree level for degree level, U.S. degrees are *at least* one year behind
    U.K. degrees. The British Council equates most U.S. master's degrees as
    being equivalent to a U.K. bachelor's honors degree or lower. Master's
    degrees from prestigious U.S. institutions may meet the level of a U.K.
    taught master's. No U.S. master's meets the level requirement of a U.K.
    research master's degree.

    It is likely that most U.S. Ph.D. degrees can be pegged somewhere
    between a U.K. research master's degree and a U.K. MPhil degree,
    inclusive. Ph.D. degrees from prestigious U.S. universities may be at
    the level of U.K. Ph.D. degrees.




    And in a recent thread in this areana . . .


    . . . it's worth pointing out
    that the US has, overall, been well served by a higher education system that has facilitated its rise to the status of the world's super power, while in comparison, over the same period, Britain, with its superior education system, has experienced a precipitous decline.

    My sense based on first hand experience is that Dearing* was correct in concluding an associates is about equivalent to "A" level, and a US bachelor's degree is at the level of a UK pass degree or HND (i.e. 2 years UK university). A US master's degree is about the level of a UK honors degree (3 years UK university**). The reason for the disparity is simply that UK students who have completed "A" level, are already about one to two years ahead of their American brothers and sisters in those subjects going into university study.

    Yet my experience in industry is that US graduates (at master's or Ph.D. level) with experience are every bit as capable as their UK counterparts, and critically, in many instances, a good deal more productive.

    Lawrie Miller
    who in addition to US bachelor's degrees, holds both UK HND and HNC

    Further reading on UK/US degree equivalencies

    "The team gained the impression, based on an inspection of syllabuses and examination papers, that the American high school diploma compares in standard with GCSE and the associate degree with GCE A-level and Advanced GNVQ, the bachelor’s degree with a UK pass degree or higher national diploma and the Master’s degree with a bachelor’s honours degree from a British university. "

    Appendix 5 Section 7.1

    **Excepting Scotland where the 4 year honors degree is the norm, and entrance requirements are set around end of US 1st year college (Scottish Higher grade).

  16. drwetsch

    drwetsch New Member

    Re: Equivalency

    Because the proof is in the pudding. I do not believe it is as simple as counting up the number of years spent in school. If this is the case then the poor souls who spend 10 years to get their Ph.D. versus those who spend 4-5 years must be doubly educated.

    Even Lawrie in his post below points to the utility of the American degree to get into postgraduate study in the UK. This is the crux of the matter. If the academic quality of the degree was not on par to gain admission to postgraduate studies then American students would have to take additional coursework to catch up with their British counterparts.

    In addition, in my professional circle I have never seen a Brit with a British master's degree compare their education as equivalent to an American doctorate. I think that you and Lawrie are exhibiting some British academic snobbery here. Keep in mind when the British polytechs became universities and awarded doctorates this caused some uproar in the UK. Are these degrees really sub-doctorates? (sarcasm).

  17. Lawrie Miller

    Lawrie Miller New Member

    Re: Equivalency

    Again, Scott took the words right out of my mouth and he is exactly correct. The unity of views and the similarity in modes of expression is remarkable. Uncanny. And the detail is worth reiterating.

    In another thread

    Subject: University of Leicester (UK)
    Date: Sun, 03 Feb 2002 01:24:42 -0800
    Lawrie Miller wrote

    Yet the UK HND is in no way comparable to the US associates degree. They are different animals and fulfill different functions. A UK HND is at the level of a UK pass degree*. The commencement study level of the major in a UK HND is at "A" level, and the study is usually another two years narrowly focused on that major. A US associates degree generally includes the broad education component comprising the first two years of study of a four year US college degree. The first two years of a US college degree cover subjects up to about the level of UK "A" levels. This then prepares students for study in the final two years of a US 4 year degree, or alternatively, for employment with a terminal credential at the US 2 year college level. In other words, HND study starts where US associates degree study ends.

  18. rinri

    rinri New Member

    Similar discussion arises with regard to academic equivalency between US and German school systems and the resulting degrees. While Germany is slowly introducing the 'International Bachelor' now, which I cannot speak to, at the secondary-school level there is really no comparing the two. I shall try to anyway. I went to both the 10th grade of German "Gymnasium" (German high school for college-bound students) and then to the 12th grade of American high school.

    The course load in the German 10th grade included the following MANDATORY coursework: Physics, Chemistry, Math, Latin, English, German, World History, Sociology (Comparative Religions), Biology and Music. Then, I also had the option to choose between increased Math and a French course. (C'est la vie!) That's 11 full-year (2 semesters) courses. Twenty-two credits, if you will.

    Then, skipping one year (which I had previously lost when going from American Elementary to German Gymnasium), I attended the American 12th grade. There, partially to satisfy all my graduation requirements within that year, I took the following coursework (which included many options with which to fulfill the requirements but was not an untypical scenario): Business Accounting, Architectural Drafting, English III, American History I and II, Political Science, Personal Typing, US Government, and Algebra II. These were semester-long courses adding up to nine credits.

    German Gymnasium goes to grade 13, so that is one year more than US students. Also having 7 weeks of German summer vacation, instead of the American 12 weeks, adds up over 12 years. Often debated is whether the German high school diploma (or 'Abitur') is equivalent to 1) the American high school diploma, 2) the diploma plus one year, or to 3) an Associate degree.

    IMO, one has to look not only at years spent or degree titles earned but how much work is actually being done in any given academic year. Comparing educational systems in that way should lead to more accurate results. Note: Both curricula prepared me for life (in as far as that is possible), albeit in different ways, successfully. Nobel-laureate material? - nah, not anytime soon ... (~wishful thinking~).
  19. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Does this mean that the British BA would take 5 weeks under Lawrie's method? I guess that extra week adds significant depth to the degree. :D
  20. Lawrie Miller

    Lawrie Miller New Member

    Re: Re: Equivalency

    But what we are looking at is academic content. No one is counting the years. We are comparing levels of competence.

    If this is the case then the poor souls who spend 10 years to get their Ph.D. versus those who spend 4-5 years must be doubly educated.

    No one has made that argument. The point was made that over the traditional period of schooling, up until the age of 18, covering the same number of years in the US as in the UK, British A-level students are about two years ahead of American students on a subject by subject basis. That is, US high school graduates are about the level of UK GCSE (formerly O-level): a level reached by UK students at age 16.

    This approximately two year gap persists on up the academic ladder. Where was "time served" offered in support of this argument, John? The answer is, of course, nowhere. Time is used as a measure of relative academic attainment as in, "John is two years ahead of Bob in level of accomplishment". That does not necessarily mean John has been studying two years longer than Bob, but rather that John has a degree of competence relative to Bob, equivalent to an extra two years of study, .

    No, let us be clear what we are talking about here. The issue is not the years spent in study, nor is it the utility of this or that degree. Rather it is the relative academic competence of UK and US graduates who hold credentials that through coincidence of language and history, happen to share the same nomenclature. An appropriate analogy may be the US and the UK (Imperial) gallon. They share the same name and seek to quantify the same property (volume and capacity), but one has more of that property than the other. We can have one full US gallon of gas in one hand and a full Imperial gallon of gas in the other. We may even manage to sell both for the same price. Nevertheless, they are not equal. One can contains more gas than the other. No argument citing equivalent utility (price, or "what you can get for it") or obfuscation detailing the time taken to fill each container (time taken to realize capacity), will alter the fact that one can contains more gasoline than does the other.

    If there is a one or two year difference going into a UK degree verses a US degree, then there is likely a one or two year difference coming out of it (for the same length of study). But we do not have to infer that. We can directly compare proficiencies, at least much of the time. We can compare the academic level of US high school students and UK A-level students. We can compare, course by course, exam by exam, 2nd year US college required attainment levels in specific subjects with required levels of competence at UK A-level in the same subject. We can compare the required level of attainment of a UK BA honors graduate with that required of a US master's graduate. And we can compare the required level of attainment of a US Ph.D. graduate with the requirements that need be met to earn a UK M.Phil or other UK master's research degree. Looks to me like an ideal subject of investigation for your next doctorate, John.

    No it isn't. The crux of the matter and the bone of contention is whether the UK and US degrees under consideration differ significantly from one another in terms of required level of academic attainment. Utility is not relevant to the central theme of the thread (though it is of crucial concern otherwise), unless you are conceding that, as measures of academic attainment, US degrees lag UK degrees by one or two years? If you are conceding that, then there is no argument, for I agree that US degree utility is comparable, level for level, to UK degree utility. Indeed, I offered witness to that fact in a previous post.

    If the academic quality of the degree was not on par to gain admission to postgraduate studies then American students would have to take additional coursework to catch up with their British counterparts.

    Not necessarily. All that the acceptance you cite tells us is that the degrees have equal utility in respect of acceptance into graduate programs. It does not speak to the relative academic worth of the degrees. In an ideal world it would do, but this is not an ideal world. All we can say is that such acceptance may be an indicator of academic equivalence. In this case we have damming evidence that it is not (course by course comparisons as detailed in the Dearing Report*).

    In addition, in my professional circle I have never seen a Brit with a British master's degree compare their education as equivalent to an American doctorate.

    And in all my years staring at the sky, I have never witnessed a solar eclipse, yet they occur. Your statement tells us nothing useful. What type of master's degrees did these Brits have? Research masters or masters by instruction (taught masters)? How many Brits with research master's degrees have you had occasion to speak with on the subject of degree equivalencies? If you did not speak to any or to only a few, then it is no surprise none broached the subject of UK/US research degree equivalencies.

    I think that you and Lawrie are exhibiting some British academic snobbery here.

    (I think Scott said he was Canadian and had never attended a UK school)

    Snobbery! Moi? John, I'm doing my best to promote DL degrees in 4 weeks by examination for the masses. What do I have to be snobby about? I'm not exactly Ivy League. I "went" to USNY and Regents. I took a bunch of proficiency exams. I'm a blue-collar workin' stiff. Inordinately common.

    Keep in mind when the British polytechs became universities and awarded doctorates this caused some uproar in the UK. Are these degrees really sub-doctorates? (sarcasm).

    Really, having experienced both systems, my preference by a long chalk, is for the American system. It is more accessible, has infinitely more entry points, is more democratic, is much less class biased (though it does have elements of that bias), and serves the needs of Nation and the People, far more effectively than the system established in the UK. For all the superiority of the British system (and it is only one or two years) it is American rockets that carry British astronauts into space (are there any British astronauts?), and it is overwhelmingly American computers and American operating systems that power British Science. While it may be true that many an American college graduate cannot find Europe or even Fresno on a map, they do know how to design a first rate GMR read/write head. A far more productive endeavor.

    However, despite all that, if UK and US degrees are unequal, then they are unequal. My experience leads me to believe the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. If that fact upsets some, should we deny Nature? Should we say truth is other than the truth?

    By the same token, and with as much certainty, my experience leads me to believe that in the main, UK degrees level for level, signal a higher standard of academic competence and achievement than do their US counterparts.

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