Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Surge in Popularity of Integrated Degrees

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Surge in Popularity of Integrated Degrees

Article excerpt

Student loans access for a master's qualification thought to be principal cause. Holly Else reports

The popularity of courses that combine a master's and bachelor's degree has exploded over the past five years as students look for new ways to finance postgraduate study, an analysis by Times Higher Education reveals.

Almost 79,000 students were on courses that included an integrated master's in 2012-13, nearly double the number for 2007-08 when the figure stood at just under 43,000, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

But one academic has raised concerns about the rigour of the courses compared with a stand-alone master's and questioned whether they take the UK out of step with the Bologna process.

Experts that THE has spoken to suggest that the courses are becoming an increasingly popular way to access finance for a master's qualification as approved programmes are eligible for taxpayer-backed student loan funding. Students funding postgraduate-only study must typically rely on their own funds or lending from high street banks.

The Hesa data suggest that integrated master's courses have become more popular in all subject areas except for mass communications and documentation, where student numbers have fallen since 2011-12 after steady growth. No courses are currently available in veterinary science or agriculture.

Overall, integrated master's courses in science and engineering subjects are more popular than those in the arts and humanities, but even these subjects now have hundreds more students taking the qualification than five years ago.

Engineering and technology subjects have seen the largest surge in sign-ups, with about 11,500 more students on the courses in 2012-13 than in 2007-08. Other fields to see strong growth are physical sciences, up by almost 8,400 over the past five years, and subjects allied to medicine, up by almost 8,000 in the same period.

The University of East London has recently approved an integrated master's programme structure. The director of UEL's graduate school, Alan White, said that one of the primary drivers was that students could access state loans.

"With increasing undergraduate student fees debt, stand-alone master's programmes are going to experience a dramatic fall in demand," he said. "The integrated master's is a way, for the moment, for students to fund [advanced] study at a loan rate more attractive than bank loans."

He added that science subjects have historically had a dominant share of the integrated master's market and that this trend may "shift as other disciplinary areas wake up to the possibility of creating these programmes". …

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