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I have currently completed a Bachelor's degree in mathematics in Australia and want to go onto do a PhD in pure mathematics in Belgium or Germany. I need to either complete my Honours degree next year at my current university or move elsewhere to do a Masters degree as my current university doesn't offer Masters. I want to stay at my current university due to having good research opportunities here, however, I am concerned I won't be admitted to a PhD program at the universities I want to go to with only a Bachelor Honours degree (4 years).

The universities I want to apply to require Masters for admission, however, state that degrees of minimum 4 years in length considered equivalent may be accepted. Upon contacting these universities with my issue, they essentially just reiterate the information already provided on their website, and it seems I just need to apply to the program to truly find out whether my degree will be considered sufficient for admission or not.

Does anyone know if Australian Honours degrees would generally be considered equivalent to European Masters degrees, at least in Belgium and Germany? Also, does anyone know if it is common for students to be turned away from admission to a PhD due to only having an Honours degree, assuming they have good results and research experience?

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    I don't know about the maths degrees in Australia as a whole but my impression of the Honours theses at ANU is that they are certainly well above the level of many MSci dissertations (in maths) that I have seen in the UK. Whether or not this is good enough for Belgium or Germany, I am not sure; but of course it may depend on where you are applying – Yemon Choi Dec 22 '19 at 1:29
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    I don't know how the bureaucracy/administrative procedures would work for either Belgium or Germany, but assuming your application does not get filtered out at the first hurdle and is seen by a mathematician, I think they would be more interested in what courses you have taken and what content you have seen in 4 years of your degree rather than "Bachelor's" or "Master's" per se. – Yemon Choi Dec 22 '19 at 1:34
  • @YemonChoi I would have a supervisor sorted before applying to the program and they would be able to support my application along with my current supervisor in Australia, I just worry that they would reject me solely on the basis of not having a Masters without considering my research experience, publications and who is supporting the application. – Pseudo Professor Dec 22 '19 at 4:46
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    If/when you do apply, why not translate the situation on your CV and cover letter. Put a line for your undergrad then split off your honours year, putting (postgraduate research qualification, equivalent of MA) next to it in parentheses, and put the title of your project. Make it look like the postgraduate degree that it is. Ask your references to be clear on this matter too. Make it very easy for them to see it as a masters equivalent by presenting it as such – GrotesqueSI Dec 22 '19 at 7:05
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I can say some things about the situation in Germany, I know nothing about how it works in Belgium (Europe is diverse, and for this case, even Germany is diverse...).

The short, but not immediately helpful answer is: It depends on many factors. I would expect that most of the time you will have difficulties going for a PhD with a Bachelor´s degree in Germany. But a general answer if this will be the case is not possible. Every university and to some extent every faculty can make their own rules, and a supervisor who really wants you in her/his group can fight for your case. If you do not have such support, your case might be doomed to fail, or you will have to take so many extra courses that it would be easier to take a Master´s degree. Because the outcome of such a discussion (usually on faculty level) is hard to be predicted the people you contacted cannot say much more than what you found online. So you should find a potential supervisor who is convinced of you as a PhD student.

One of the reasons is that the Bachelor/Master system has no long tradition in Germany. Bachelor´s and Master´s degrees first appeared around 10-15 years ago within the Bologna process (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bologna_Process). In most cases, there was a hard transition from a diploma degree (without any 'intermediate' degree comparable to a Bachelor´s degree) taking 4-5 years to finish to a Bachelor/Master program taking 5 years in total. The old diploma programs were more or less copied to the new program. Therefore, it is still rather unusual to finish with a Bachelor´s degree only, and practically everybody going for a PhD has a Master´s degree. You come from another part of the world with another tradition, but this is what you have to understand for Germany.

You can be very happy that the Bologna process exists, otherwise it would be much harder for you. My father came to Germany in the 1970s with a B.A. which was unheard of, so faced difficulties more or less throughout his career. And to be honest: I, as an example for somebody rooted in German academia, do not know what an Australian Honours degree is and how it compares to a Bachelor's or Master's degree.

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I think this depends on the university. I don't really know the situation for Belgium or Germany, but in directly adjacent the Netherlands it is up to the university's discretion to determine what the red lines are for PhD admission. At my university, noone is admitted without a completed Master's degree.

The statement that "degrees of minimum 4 years in length considered equivalent may be accepted" might help you out here, but there is no way of knowing this in general. It might help, if this is possible at the program of your choice, to upload your Honours thesis as an attachment with your application. This is possibly your best chance to demonstrate that the degree is indeed at least equivalent in quality to a Master's degree.

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This depends a great deal on which specific university you attended. There are a number of international rankings for universities worldwide, which allow people to make broad inferences on the quality of education at overseas universities that they are not familiar with. Several of the "Group of Eight" universities in Australia are ranked commensurately with highly esteemed universities in Europe. It is likely that academics assessing your application will try to make themselves familiar with the rough "world ranking" of your university, to get some idea of how that university compares to universities in their own country.

As an example, in the latest THE World University Rankings, you can easily search for the rankings of all universities in Australia, Belgium, and Germany. This search shows that the top ranking university among these countries is shared between LMU Munich (Germany) and the University of Melbourne (Australia), both of which are ranked equally as the 32nd best university worldwide. Other highly ranked universities in Australia are the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales, and Monash University. Bear in mind that these rankings are not sacrosanct, and they most around each year, but nevertheless, they can give a reasonable impression of roughly where a university sits in comparison to universities that are in other countries.

As to the particular content of your program, if they say that they expect four years for equivalence, then that suggests that you will need to have done a four year degree program to quality. A standard mathematics degree in Australia is three years, but it may be supplemented with an Honours year or one-year Masters degree, depending on the university. If you have only done the base three-year program so far, then you probably need to supplement this with an honours year or a one-year Masters degree to get up to the required level of equivalence.

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Does anyone know if Australian Honours degrees would generally be considered equivalent to European Masters degrees, at least in Belgium and Germany?

Australians would consider it equivalent. Belgians and Germans probably haven't heard of it. Just tell them it's the same as a masters degree.

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  • Their admissions departments will have heard of it for sure. You have to get the official line from admissions. – GrotesqueSI Dec 22 '19 at 7:00

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