What is the MSci degree?

People who are not familiar with the details of the European and the UK university education systems may not be aware of the differences between the MSci degree and the more common MSc degree.

This page provides a brief explanation of what the MSci degree is. It also highlights the key differences between the MSci and the traditional MSc degree on the basis of my own education history.

For further details about my MSci studies, see here.

Anglo-American tertiary education system

The common procedure in the Anglo-American tertiary education is to undertake a Bachelor degree after the high school. Depending on the particular country, university and subject area, this degree usually takes 3 to 4 years and is abbreviated as BA (Bachelor of Arts), BEng (Bachelor of Engineering), or BSc or BS (Bachelor of Science).

After obtaining a Bachelor degree students can either leave the university or proceed to a Master's degree. Depending on the particular country, university and subject area, this degree usually takes 1-2 years and is abbreviated as MA (Master of Arts), MEng (Master of Engineering), or MSc or MS (Master of Science).

Of course, this is just a typical situation. There are hundreds of special degree names at different universities. Also, in some countries, an optional Honours year is commonly offered to Bachelor graduates.

European tertiary education system

The tertiary education on the European continent differs from the Anglo-American system (although recent efforts within the European Union are directed towards adapting the Bachelor-Master model). While the details may differ between individual countries, the common practice is to undertake a comprehensive degree that takes 4-6 years and is roughly equivalent to a combination of Master's and Bachelor in a single degree. For instance, German "Magister" (in Arts) and "Diplom" (in Sciences) degrees are examples of this approach.

The MSci degree

The MSci degree is a UK effort to offer a university degree equivalent to the continental approach. The specific details may vary according to the particular university and area of study, but the general idea is to combine the common Bachelor and Master's degrees in one integrated package.

My MSci degree (computer science at the University College London) took 4 years. The first three years were largely the same as the corresponding Bachelor degree. We have attended exactly the same courses as the BSc students. The only difference was that in the 3rd year, the BSc students spent 2 of their half-units working on their BSc thesis projects, while the MSci students were taking additional taught courses instead. The courses attended by the MSci students in the final 4th year were largely the same as the courses attended by MSc students (those doing the common 1-year MSc degree). The only difference at that stage lay within the rules that governed which elective units we could choose. While the common MSc degrees are highly specialised ("MSc in Computational Statistics and Machine Learning", "MSc in Data Communications, Networks and Distributed Systems", etc.), the MSci was broader ("MSci in Computer Science") and thus we could choose courses from the many different specialised MSc programs offered by the department. I preferred the broader choice, but I guess, it is a matter of personal preference. At the end of the degree both, the MSci and the MSc students, undertook a Master's theses with similar requirements.