Centuries-old M.A. practice neither misled then nor now

The ancient practice of receiving an M.A. from Trinity without further study was heavily criticised late last month in an article published by the Irish Mail on Sunday.

The system as it stands allows those who have held a B.A. for at least three years to have an M.A. conferred on payment of a fee. In response to the article, written by a graduate of the university, leading political figures condemned the practice as “unfair” or “disgraceful.”

On the basis of facts presented by the Mail on Sunday, these comments might be justified. In reality, however, things are a little less sensational. The Oxbridge and Dublin M.A. system (as this tradition exists in our sister universities Oxford and Cambridge) dates back to a time before any other Irish university existed, let alone awarded Master’s degrees. It is based upon seniority, not study, and in the past indicated a standing of experience, not qualification.

It is, essentially, another of our traditions which we share with the finest universities of the UK, many of which are being eroded by the passage of time. Our Master’s students are awarded M.Phil or M.Litt certificates for their efforts at further study to avoid confusion; and as for the charge that the university is somehow attempting to “fool” prospective employers, one would hope that any HR professional would be familiar with university qualifications, and that we are producing graduates who would not deliberately mislead a smaller business where an M.A. is required for a position.

Reactionary hysteria from opposition spokespeople seeking extra column inches should be taken with a pinch of salt; as should an attack on an established practice dating to the middle ages.