I'm currently finishing a B.Sc. Honours in Canada, and I'm applying to Edinburgh (among other places) to do a Masters. They have two research-based degrees, and I was wondering if people with experience in academics and CS could help me distinguish between the two. I'm not overly familiar with the British Education system.

The M.Sc. is a one-year degree of independent research, with very little to no classes. The MPhil is a two-year degree, where classes are taken in addition to independent research.

In particular, I'm wondering:

  • Which is considered "more academic" or "more prestigious?"
  • Which would be better for getting into a PhD program?
  • Since there aren't classes in the MSc, are you expected to have a higher level of knowledge coming in?

4 Answers 4


In the UK it's relatively unusual to apply for an MPhil - MSc and MRes are much more common. MPhils really exist to cover failed PhD candidates. When you apply to study for a PhD in the UK, for the first 12-18 months you are placed on "probation" (even if you alread hold an MSc/MRes). After this time, a review (and mini-viva) of both your progress and quality of research is conducted and you are either "confirmed" as being a PhD candidate or are relegated to MPhil.

  • 3
    The practice varies from university to university though. At some places (including Manchester, where I did an MPhil) PhD candidates are registered as MPhil and then either continue to the second year of a PhD or hand in an MPhil thesis (or fail altogether). Some people choose to leave so it is not necessarily a 'relegation' or bad thing to get an MPhil. It's also possible to get an MPhil if your thesis at the end of three years isn't good enough fro a PhD.
    – pwaring
    May 27, 2015 at 20:06
  • 4
    I don't think this is really true. My impression is that different universities choose the names of their master's degrees according to their own traditions and that there's no overall national pattern. As a specific example, Oxford seems to use MPhil for master's courses that are designed as one way into a PhD (which Oxford calls DPhil) programme and MSc for those that aren't. Cambridge has 13 pages of master's courses, most of which are MPhils: these definitely aren't semi-failed PhDs. Sep 25, 2017 at 8:56
  • Such a wrong and offensive answer. How can you be a "failed PhD candidate" if you never started a PhD in the first place? What if someone is a successful MPhil and don't wish to pursue a PhD? Is he also a failed PhD candidate? Come on...
    – Andreas K.
    Sep 12, 2020 at 10:18

Looking at the courses there appears to be a one-year taught MSc and a one-year MSc by research. The two-year MPhil while described as a research degree, has a one-year taught component. It seems to me that the MPhil is just the two MSc courses combined. The programme description says:

The first year of MPhil studies is probationary.

suggesting to me that if you do not do well enough on the taught component that you cannot progress to the research part.

I would say that taking classes is less "academic" than doing research and therefore the MPhil is less "academic". I would also think that the MSc by research has the highest admission standards and therefore is more prestigious

For getting into a PhD program you need to prove you can do research. Graduate level course work often helps in doing research. If you already have the fundamental skills that you would be learning in the taught components, there is no big benefit to taking more courses. Similar with research experience. If you are lacking both the MPhil might be the way to, but if you are lacking only one chose the appropriate MSc.

As for entry requirements, it is probably best to contact the department and ask them. As I said above, my guess would be that the MSc by research has the highest entry requirements.


Generally in the UK, the MPhil is seen as a senior level research qualification just above the MRes and below the PhD - at least in computer science. I do not agree that an MPhil is necessarily a failed PhD as there can be many reasons why a candidate cannot produce a full PhD thesis ranging from company support, time and funding to personal circumstances. A PhD fail to me is someone who has done a PhD thesis and failed the PhD viva and failed to get at least major corrections or a recommendation for resubmission in 12 months.

This was true in my case that I was transferred from PhD to MPhil, albeit my situation was rather difficult; I was in a PhD route for 3.5 years full time at Lancaster University and the sponsor company (a major water utility company) stopped communicating with me and my supervisor. As a result, my prototype was left untested in a real world scenario which was necessary for my PhD work as there is a requirement in producing innovative and original work. After a year of starting my PhD, I had a supervisor change resulting in a research area change resulting in a late panel 2 years down the line which didn't help either. The panel is a useful tool to know if you are being guided in the correct path and to know if you are getting along well with your supervisor as well as to see if you are producing work that is up to PhD/MPhil standard. If your work is not up to MPhil standard, they can altogether cancel your registration and you are out. I can't stress this enough; you should have your panel early in your PhD and never late. In my case, it was given late due to a supervisor change and that "I fell through the cracks of the system" and nothing could be done other than to make a formal complaint which I have already.

The panel concluded that I had enough work to do a PhD and decided to change my route from PhD to MPhil on the premise that I was running out of time and no funding available for me (I only had 6 months left of funding, but due to other circumstances, this went well beyond my defence and upto summer 2017 surviving on a TA salary which was less than £5000 pa). This was compounded with fears that I might leave with nothing. They did say that if got the MPhil, then perhaps I could use this as a stepping stone to a PhD and upgrade my work.

It took me 5 years to complete my "over bloated" MPhil and I decided not to pursue the PhD in my area due to difficulties with my current supervision - it is another long story. I feel I do have enough research skills to carry out research in other areas which are of interest to me.

To clarify whether the MPhil has any classes: no, it doesn't. It is purely research unless you are doing a professional Doctorate which have taught components with research. The MPhil is research work done at the same quality and academic rigour of a PhD, albeit shorter in length - hence why the MPhil is seen as a higher degree than an MSc by Research. The MPhil used to be the gold standard during the 60's and 70's for lectureships until requirements increased to have a PhD under your belt.

Which is considered "more academic" or "more prestigious?"

From the Masters degrees, the MPhil as it is the highest Masters qualification that you can get before embarking on a PhD. I know people in my area who haven't got a PhD but have an MEng and produced academic output equivalent to that of a Professor with a PhD. Having research output and published by top ranking publishers is more prestigious in my opinion.

"Which one is better for a PhD?"

It depends on which subject you are studying; in computer science, you only need a BSc honours with a first class honours to enter the PhD route directly without requiring an MSc. Having an MRes or even better, an MPhil in a related area, would considerably boost your chances in succeeding. Other subjects like psychology would require an MRes to enter the PhD route depending on research areas.

  • 1
    This could be a helpful answer if the question were about MPhils at Lancaster, but as David Richerby rightly observes in a comment on the accepted answer the meaning of MPhil varies between British universities. As such, absolute statements like "It is purely research" are misleading. Sep 26, 2017 at 11:32
  • As I quote from a book written by E.Phillips, "How to get a PhD" p29,30. "A candidate for an MPhil must undertake an investigation but, compared to the PhD, the work may be limited in scope and the degree of originality... ...In a high quality MPhil, evidence is required of the ability to test ideas; understand appropriate techniques; make use of published work and source material; and show familiarity with different theories and empirical studies.". Therefore I do not see why my statement is misleading as a high quality MPhil is "purely by research".
    – J Linares
    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:49
  • That quote claims that all MPhils involve research, which may be true, but does not say that they are purely research. David Richerby's comment links to some counterexamples at a prestigious UK university. Sep 27, 2017 at 13:20
  • It depends on the context of the degree being awarded and this opens a new discussion, i.e. Which one is more prestigious, the academic PhD or a professional PhD? The difference is due to articles being published in trade or non academic peer review journal and the title awarded (DPsych, EdD, DProf). Thus, the qualification is seen as a watered down version of the PhD by certain groups. I would not expect a taught MPhil offered to students who would want an academic career. timeshighereducation.com/unijobs/article/…
    – J Linares
    Sep 27, 2017 at 14:17

Mphil is an interphase between MSc and PhD. I.e above MSc but below PhD. Masters program pose more importance to thesis. Mphil is usaully research based and that case higher than MSc.

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