Licentiate Degree

Licentiate is the title of a person who holds an academic degree called a licence. The term may derive from the Latin licentia docendi, meaning permission to teach. The term may also derive from the Latin licentia ad practicandum, which signified someone who held a certificate of competence to practise a profession. Many countries have degrees with this title, but they may represent different educational levels. In some universities it is a degree between that of bachelor and master or doctor; in some countries it is comparable to a PhD degree.

Originally, for the student in the medieval university the "licentia docendi" was of a somewhat different nature than the academic degrees of bachelor, master or doctor. The latter essentially indicated the rank of seniority in the various faculties (arts, theology, law, medicine), whereas the licentia was literally the license to teach. It was awarded not by the university but by the church, embodied in the chancellor of the diocese in which the university was located. The licentia would only be awarded however upon recommendation by the university, initially shortly before the candidate would be awarded the final degree of master or doctor, the requirements for which beyond having been awarded the licentia were only of a ceremonial nature.

Over time however, this distinction in nature between the licentia on the one hand and the bachelor, master and doctor degrees on the other began to fade. In the continental European universities the licentia became an academic degree between the bachelor degree on the one hand and the master or doctor degree on other, in particular in the higher faculties. Moreover, the costs for obtaining the doctorate could be significant - including a grand feast for the entire faculty, which in the Spanish universities would include a corrida. As a result most students not intending on an academic career would forego the doctorate, and as a result the licentiate became the common final degree.

An notable exception to this development were the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the universities modelled after them. As their locations were not the seats of bishops, the granting of the licentia docendi happened by proxy, and its significance faded away.

The word "licentiate" is used only in the names of specialized degrees, like Licentiate of Canon Law, or Licentiate of Sacred Theology, granted by pontifical universities such as The Catholic University of America.