Honours vs Non-Honours Degree: What’s the Difference?
What’s the difference between an honours and a non-honours degree? We demystify these jargons in this article.
Updated 30 May 2023
Ever wondered why some degrees have the word “Hons” (i.e. honours) and some degrees don’t? Does this prestigious word bring better employment opportunities? More importantly, is it worth the extra time, money and effort?
If you’re curious to know more, you’re in luck! In this article, we explain everything you need to know about an honours and a non-honours degree.
What is an “honours” degree?
An honours degree typically refers to a higher level of academic achievement at an undergraduate level.
You can distinguish an honours degree by the presence of the word “Honours” or “Hons” in a qualification. Examples include:
- Bachelor of Arts (Honours) or BA (Hons)
- Bachelor of Science (Honours) or BSc (Hons)
- Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) or BEng (Hons)
- Bachelor of Laws (Honours) or LLB (Hons)
Conversely, a non-honours degree does not contain the word “Honours” or “Hons”. Some examples include:
- Bachelor of Arts or BA
- Bachelor of Science or BSc
- Bachelor of Engineering or BEng
- Bachelor of Laws or LLB
How can you obtain an honours degree?
Because Malaysian universities offer a wide range of degrees based on different education systems around the world (e.g. UK, Australia, USA, etc.), the meaning of “honours” and how you obtain it varies depending on the university and the programme you are enrolled in.
Broadly, we can divide the universities into two segments — universities that only offer honours degrees and universities that offer both honours and non-honours degrees.
#1. Universities that only offer honours degrees
A large number of universities in Malaysia fall under this segment. If you were to go through the list of courses that the university offers, you will notice that most (if not all) of their degrees are attached with the word “Honours” or “Hons”.
For universities under this umbrella, you will automatically receive a degree with honours unless you achieve a poor grade that is below the honours standard.
Some of the types of universities that practise this include:
- UK universities with branch campuses in Malaysia (e.g. University of Nottingham Malaysia, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia)
- Malaysian institutions with 3+0 UK programmes (e.g. INTI 3+0 degrees)
- Malaysian universities offering their own degrees (e.g. Taylor’s University, APU, IMU)
Typically, these universities follow the British format of degree classification and award degrees in the form of “First Class Honours”, “Upper Second Class Honours”, “Lower Second Class Honours” and “Third Class Honours”, where “First Class Honours” indicates a higher level of academic achievement.
#2. Universities that offer both honours and non-honours degrees
On the other hand, some universities offer the “honours” programme separately from the undergraduate degree.
To obtain an honours degree with universities under this umbrella, you will be required to spend 1 additional year in university after your undergraduate degree, usually to complete a major research project and to produce a high-quality research thesis. Entry into this 1-year honours course typically requires strong academic grades, especially in the third year of your undergraduate degree.
In this instance, it’s important to note that, unlike British universities, acquiring an honours degree will require extra time and money.
In Malaysia, only Australian universities with branch campuses in Malaysia practise this. Some examples of institutions include Monash University Malaysia, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus and Curtin University Sarawak Malaysia.
Should you take an honours degree?
If the degree that you have chosen is automatically attached with an honours, there is no reason for you to be concerned, other than the fact that you should ensure that you meet the academic grades.
In fact, based on the guidelines issued by MQA, all Malaysian universities are encouraged to include the word "Honours" or "Hons" in their degree as long as it is equivalent to a Level 6 in the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) qualification.
On the other hand, if you were to choose an Australian degree, then you may need to consider if you want to spend an additional year to undertake a year-long research project.
Taking an Australian honours will equip you with additional research skills, allowing you to delve deeper into a specialised topic. This can be extremely useful if you want to pursue a PhD later on. You will also gain transferable skills that will be useful once you enter the workforce, such as planning and organising your tasks to achieve a complex goal, investigating independently and communicating effectively.
We hope that we have shed some light on what the “honours” distinction entails when it comes to choosing a degree programme. Regardless of whether it’s an honours or non-honours programme, pursuing a degree is no walk in the park and can be challenging in its own right. So take some time to mull over your options to avoid regretting your decision.