The organization and structure of postgraduate education varies in different countries, as well as in different institutions within countries. This article outlines the basic types of courses and of teaching and examination methods, with some explanation of their history.
There are two main types of degrees studied for at the postgraduate level: academic and vocational degrees.
Although systems of higher education date back to ancient Greece, ancient Rome, China, the Indian subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula, the concept of postgraduate education depends upon the system of awarding degrees at different levels of study, and can be traced to the workings of European medieval universities, mostly Italians. University studies took six years for a bachelor's degree and up to twelve additional years for a master's degree or doctorate. The first six years taught the faculty of the arts, which was the study of the seven liberal arts: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music theory, grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The main emphasis was on logic. Once a Bachelor of Arts degree had been obtained, the student could choose one of three faculties—law, medicine, or theology—in which to pursue master's or doctor's degrees.
The degrees of master (from Latin magister) and doctor (from Latin doctor) were for some time equivalent, "the former being more in favour at Paris and the universities modeled after it, and the latter at Bologna and its derivative universities. At Oxford and Cambridge a distinction came to be drawn between the Faculties of Law, Medicine, and Theology and the Faculty of Arts in this respect, the title of Doctor being used for the former, and that of Master for the latter." Because theology was thought to be the highest of the subjects, the doctorate came to be thought of as higher than the master's.