Higher Education

, Volume 62, Issue 5, pp 619-633

First online:

Honouring the incomparable: honours in Australian universities

  • Margaret KileyAffiliated withCentre for Educational Development and Academic Methods, The Australian National UniversityUniversity of Newcastle Email author 
  • , David BoudAffiliated withCommunication & Learning Group, University of Technology Sydney
  • , Catherine ManathungaAffiliated withTeaching and Educational Development Institute, The University of Queensland
  • , Robert CantwellAffiliated withSchool of Education, The University of Newcastle

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The Honours undergraduate degree in Australia is unlike that in most other countries. It has taken on a particular significance as a qualification, as a pathway to and a pre-requisite for direct entry into doctoral programs. This paper explores the outcomes of a study that suggests that the aims, outcomes, curriculum, pedagogical practices, purposes and enrolment patterns of Honours vary substantially across disciplines and university types. It addresses the questions about the diverse nature of Honours programs and questions what this diversity means for Australian higher education in the context where global standardisation of awards is rapidly occurring. Honours is seen variously as a qualification, an experience, or a program. These variations are discussed and it is demonstrated that Honours globally has not one, but many meanings. These meanings are often poorly understood within, and outside the academy. These multiple meanings create confusion about what Honours stands for and inhibit communication about the role and purpose of Honours both within Australia and in a global context.


Research education Curriculum planning Learning outcomes Research skills Student experience