Postgraduate Study

Why choose postgraduate study?

Students choose postgraduate study for a range of reasons including:

  • Intellectual and academic development
  • Prepare for a specific career
  • Personal satisfaction
  • Enhance career prospects
  • Avoid unemployment
  • Defer career choice
  • Prolong student life

If you are interested in postgraduate study you need to think carefully about your commitment and motivation. If your reason for undertaking postgraduate study is to enhance your career prospects, it is important to check that the course will help you achieve this goal.

Even for those careers where gaining a further qualification is a prerequisite, such as teaching, there is no guarantee that successful completion of the course will lead automatically to employment. It is advisable to ask the department concerned about the destinations of previous students. You can also contact University Careers Services for impartial information on career destinations.


Types of awards

Higher degree by instruction.
Most taught masters courses (MA/MSc/MRes) usually last one year. Courses usually include lectures and seminars and may include examinations. Training is given in research methods and you will need to write a dissertation. Some courses require previous knowledge of the subject, but others provide the opportunity to study a new discipline. There are also conversion courses specifically aimed at students who have no prior experience of the subject. Examples include Information Technology and Psychology.

Higher degree by research. 
All Doctoral and some Masters degrees are awarded after a period of original research culminating in a thesis and oral exam.  A Masters degree by research (MPhil) usually takes 2 years while a Doctorate (PhD/DPhil) takes at least 3 years.  Part time postgraduate study is also a possibility.

Diplomas and Certificates.
These are often vocational courses aimed at preparing students for specific career areas. Such courses are essential for certain careers eg Teaching (PGCE) and Social Work (DipSW). For other professions further study may be useful but not essential eg a Diploma in Public Relations. These courses usually involve both academic study and practical instruction. Placements can be an important aspect of these courses.

What class of degree is required?

Requirements vary widely. For postgraduate research a first class degree or upper second is usually required while for many masters courses a lower second may be acceptable. For vocational courses, personal skills and experience can be just as important, if not more so, than degree classification. It is important you check with the department concerned what the individual course requirements are. Different institutions have different criteria.


Quality audits

When choosing a postgraduate course at a particular institution you will need to consider a number of factors: the nature of the course, research conducted there, destinations of previous students, geographical location and available funding.  You may also want to take into account the quality of the teaching and research undertaken by the department to which you are applying.

Institution Reports
These are carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency and relate to the quality of teaching and support for students in HE. The value of such reports is, however, contested.  For an example see the problems with relying on such reports Trial by Ordeal written by a team of economists who had just gained the highest score possible.

Research Excellence Framework
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.


Updated: July 2018