The "Master Of Arts" Degree

One often hears the mistaken complaint that Cambridge graduates can get an "M.A." degree merely by living long enough after getting a B.A., the implied criticism being that there is no work involved compared to elsewhere.

The logical flaw in this is that it is not a Masters of Arts degree, as made popular by North American and other Universities in the last 100 years, which is an earned, postgradute degree.

The Master (as in Teacher) of Arts degree is a licence to teach, the authority to grant such licences having been delegated to the University by the Pope.

In the Middle Ages the Church controlled strictly who could teach. Students normally entered the University at about age 14 and completed one stage of their studies at age 17 or 18 but they could not receive the licence till the age of majority - 21 - seven years after matriculating. Instead they received a B.A. degree and waited for the seven years to elapse. Some studied further, such as the quadrivium.

So the M.A. is Cambridge University's first degree for students and should not be confused with recent concept of Masters degrees (earned postgraduate degrees).

The B.A. Degree

The Baccalaureate degree: not the Batchelor of Arts of the myth.

The Artium Baccalaureus or Baccalaureus in Artibus was awarded upon completion of studies but had limited significance, the M.A. being awarded about seven years after Matriculation provided the B.A. was awarded.
[C.f. the Baccalaureat in France today, awarded upon leaving school at age 17/18]

The Medieval Course of Study

The Trivium
The Arts (meaning "techniques"): Grammar (language), Rhetoric (exposition) and Logic, leading to the B.A. after 3-4 years (some left at this point)
The Quadrivium
The Arts: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music, lasting another 3 years.
The 7 years correspond to the 7 years of a craft apprenticeship before becoming a master craftsman.
The Liberal Arts were The Trivium plus The Quadrivium. The Philosophies were Natural, Moral and Metaphysical. Theology (Divinity) and Law (Canon and Civil) were also essentially for graduate study.

Studies were based on the classics, particularly the ancient Greeks such as Aristotle, plus more recent scholars such as Duns Scotus, Peter Abelard, William of Occam, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon.

For a while there was a M.Gram. (Magister Glomeriae) degree, essentially a teacher training qualification for becoming a Grammar School teacher, which concentrated on the Art of Grammar - particularly the teaching of Latin. God's House was founded for training for this.

Cambridge : History