Master of Philosophy

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In the usage of the United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and some other countries, the Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) is a research degree, requiring the completion of a thesis. It is a lesser degree than the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), and in some instances may be awarded as a substitute for a Ph.D. thesis which is a marginal fail. It may also serve as a provisional enrolment for the Ph.D. It is generally thesis only, and is regarded as a senior or second master's degree. An M.Phil. is generally considered equivalent to the French Diplôme d'études Approfondies or DEA, Spanish Diploma de Estudios Avanzados (DEA), or First Doctoral Degree.


In the Netherlands 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, law, 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 enrol for a PhD program.

United Kingdom

At the University of Oxford, the M.Phil. is a two-year master's degree, while the M.St. is a one-year master's degree. The M.Phil. is considered more difficult and prestigious, as it requires both a lengthy thesis as well as more examinations. Traditionally, the M.Phil. qualified a person to teach at Oxford; some professors, most notably the world-renowned philosopher Richard Swinburne, have held major professorships without ever finishing a D.Phil. (doctorate) degree. Today, however, the D.Phil. or Ph.D. is seen as the expected academic terminal degree.

The University of Cambridge offers the M.Phil. as a one or two-year taught or research degree. This is to distinguish it from the Oxford/Cambridge/Trinity Dublin M.A. degree, which is awarded to B.A. graduates on payment of a fee after a certain period of time, but no further study (since the seventeenth century). The ancient Scottish universities, who have the power to award M.A.'s for four-year undergraduate degrees in the arts, differ in their use of M.Phil. or M.Litt. for postgraduate research degrees, but are slowly standardising to the M.Phil. as a research Masters and the M.Litt. as a taught Masters.

In the UK, the M.Phil. is increasingly becoming used as it is in the United States - a degree offered but rarely taken, by Ph.D./D.Phil. candidates who have yet to complete their dissertation. Officially, however, many students in the UK do not initially study for a Ph.D./D.Phil: they study for an M.Phil, and the decision to continue from M.Phil. to D.Phil./Ph.D. is taken at the end of year two by the student and supervisors. People sometimes read for the M.Phil. instead of the Ph.D., though some may mistake it for a failed Ph.D. than recognise it as a passed degree.

United States

Some American universities, including Columbia University, award the M.Phil. At those universities, the degree is awarded to Ph.D. candidates when they complete their required coursework but before they defend their doctoral dissertations. This status is also called A.B.D., or 'All But Dissertation' (or 'All But Done'). 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.