Byline: MARGARET MCALPINE
CAREERS AND EDUCATION Special Report
AS more students than ever gain degrees and the workplace gets more competitive, the use of postgraduate courses to advance studies or to acquire a professional qualification is growing.
Once, almost all postgraduate courses involved original research, but today most are taught courses, with about 12,000 subjects on offer.
Jacqui Brown of Leeds University Postgraduate Admissions Department insists: 'Postgraduate study is not just for boffins.
'It places great importance on the development of transferable skills such as communication, analysis, problem solving and teamwork.
'They also give students excellent networking opportunities while they gain specialist knowledge focused on a particular area of expertise and develop their academic potential.' Some careers, such as teaching, law and social work, require a postgraduate qualification, as do many jobs in the medical field and in scientific research.
And as interest in courses has grown, so has their flexibility. Many students choose a part-time course rather than a one-year fulltime course so they can earn while they study. Courses come in three main groups: Postgraduate certificate: comprising lectures, seminars and coursework.
Postgraduate diploma: as above, plus a possible dissertation and/or final exams.
Masters degree: as above, plus a lengthy dissertation and exams.
Some courses demand an upper-second or first-class degree while others, such as business, health or social work-related courses, accept non-academic qualifications and relevant work experience.
Courses lead to a variety of qualifications, the best-known being Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc). At this level the difference between art and science is narrow. One course might lead to either qualification, depending on options chosen. Some postgraduate courses can lead to study for PhDs.
Applicants looking beyond a masters degree must check courses carefully.
Some universities offer MPhil courses in preparation for entry to a doctorate (PhD or DPhil).
More than 146,000 students are taking fulltime postgraduate courses and nearly 257,000 are on part-time ones. About 19,000 of these are Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) students training to become teachers.
Other popular subjects are business and administration, sociology, economics and politics and engineering and technology. Master in Business Administration (MBA) courses are available fulltime, part-time and by distance
learning. Relevant work experience is accepted for entry on many courses.
Whatever the course, students must make sure it is right for them.
University websites are a great source of information, and so are current postgrad students. Facilities such as libraries, labs and computer suites have to be checked.
Top names on a university staff might look impressive, but applicants should find out how much contact they would actually have with them. Other points to check are the quality of student support services, community life, the availability of part-time work if required and the cost of accommodation.
Some students stay at the same university for degree and postgraduate courses. This may mean a seamless transfer from one to the other, but it still pays to look around.
Research indicates that a one-year postgraduate course costs about [pound]9,600, rising to [pound]13,000 in London. …