THE determination of the ancient Scottish universities to maintain the title of "master of arts" for undergraduate degrees runs counter to the expressed aim of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework to provide clarity at all levels.
Confusion among employers was highlighted this week by the universities' Quality Assurance Agency, which has been developing the SCQF in association with the Committee of Higher Education Principals, the Scottish Executive, and the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Research for the QAA shows that eight out of 10 employers in the UK did not understand higher education qualifications. The masters title was assumed to mean postgraduate study, with "bachelor" being used for first degrees, as the newer Scottish universities do for their arts as well as their science qualifications.
A spokesman for Glasgow University said: "We have no evidence to suggest that the distinctive Scottish degrees discourage organisations from employing our well-qualified graduates."
But John Randall, the QAA's chief executive, said: "This degree of confusion helps no one. We need a clear framework that everyone can understand. The same title must represent the same level of achievement, no matter which uiversity or college awards it."
Support for the universities' position comes from the reports three years ago that led to the credit and qualifications framework. The Dearing and Garrick committees recommended two parallel systems of higher education, recognising the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Garrick report proposed the creation of the credit and qualifications framework, which categorises available qualifications, from basic education to doctorates.
The QAA this week laid out the detailed proposals for the higher education part of the framework. There will be two postgraduate levels, associated with masters and doctors degrees, and four undergraduate levels - honours degree, ordinary degree, diploma of higher educationHND and certificate of higher educationHNC.
Professor David Swinfen, vice-principal of Dundee University and chairman of the group which is developing the framework, said: "We need to retain the distinctiveness of Scottish higher education, and feed that into its marketing to students and others. The MA as part of the distinctiveness needs to be within that operation, and universities should have the freedom and flexibility to promote their characteristics."