When universities began to sprout during the Middle Ages any things were not standardized. An example of something that was not standardized was the titles and degrees associated with the completion of one’s studies and working at a university.
As early as the 4th century AD there were people who were claiming academic titles they had not earned. As such schools began to examine the process of what constitutes a degree and how to earn one.
The universities loosely copied the guild system used by artisans. In the guild system, it is made up of three levels the apprentice, journeyman, and master. This is what the three tiers of education in universities may be inspired by (Bachelors, Masters, PhD). Bachelor students were called apprentices, masters were called assistants, and PhD were called companions. The word bachelor comes from baccalarius and is loosely translated as an assistant.
The first distinction was made between the bachelor’s degree and the masters and PhD. After this separation, a distinction was made between the master’s degree and PhD. Another degree common during this period and still today in some parts of the world was the licentiate. In some situations, the licentiate was the same as a Master’s degree while in others it was a step above a master’s degree.
Bachelor’s degrees students often completed their studies in their late teens. This was because for several centuries students started university studies at 12-13 years of age. Eventually, the content of this bachelor was placed at the high school level as educators thought that preteens were too young for higher education.
To complete their degree, a bachelor’s degree student had to study for several years and pass an examination before four professors. If they desired to continue on to the master’s degree, they had to agree to teach for two years while working on the master’s degree. This helped to provide them with practical experience in the art of teaching.
To complete a master’s, a student went through a similar yet more rigorous process to complete the degree. If they desired a doctorate they would teach for several more years while studying. In all, masters could be completed by mid-twenties and a doctorate by early to mid-thirties.
Upon the completion of studies, there was also confusion over titles. At first, professors, magister, and doctor were all synonyms and these titles were used for people with and without a doctoral degree. Certain disciplines gravitated more towards one title or the other. For example, it was more common to call theology professors doctors compared to the arts.
With time things become more formalized. Now there is a strong distinction between bachelor, master, and doctoral degree. In addition, there is also a clear hierarchy in terms of the titles for professors based on seniority and the highest degree completed. It would be considered strange to call someone with a bachelor’s degree “doctor” in the world today.
Whenever people come together to try and do something there is always some initial confusion. Rules and policies need to be established and people need to determine what is their function within this system. This can also be seen in the growth of the university system of education which has had its own growing pains as well.