Higher Education

, Volume 62, Issue 5, pp 619–633 | Cite as

Honouring the incomparable: honours in Australian universities

  • Margaret Kiley
  • David Boud
  • Catherine Manathunga
  • Robert Cantwell


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 



Support for this publication has been provided by The Australian Learning and Teaching Council, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian Learning and Teaching Council. The authors acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Ida Nursoo, Merrilyn Pike, Anicca Main and Elizabeth Evans.


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Copyright information

© UK Crown: The Australian National University 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret Kiley
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Boud
    • 3
  • Catherine Manathunga
    • 4
  • Robert Cantwell
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Educational Development and Academic MethodsThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia
  3. 3.Communication & Learning GroupUniversity of Technology SydneyBroadwayAustralia
  4. 4.Teaching and Educational Development InstituteThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  5. 5.School of EducationThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia

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