UK study Choosing a course Postgraduate degrees
UK institutions offer an enormous variety of taught postgraduate certificates, diplomas and Master’s degrees.
These are often highly specialised, and a large number are unique. Many of these courses are recognised as amongst the best available.
Certificates and diplomas
Master’s degree (taught)
Research degrees and programmes
MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
PhD or DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy)
Special postgraduate programmes
The Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) and Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip) are taught qualifications, and are not awarded for research.
These qualifications are approximately intermediate in academic level between a first (Bachelor’s) degree and a Master’s degree.
They are available in a range of subjects, and usually concentrate on one particular area of a subject, rather than the more general approach of a first degree. Many courses are professional, in finance, IT, media and many other fields.
The duration of these qualifications is normally one year full time or two years part time. UK Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma courses are widely recognised for their academic or professional value and are welcomed by employers and academic institutions.
The Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), has a unique status. To be able to work in Britain, schoolteachers must obtain a qualification that gives them Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or its Scottish equivalent.
Most education-related first degrees will give holders QTS. However, it is possible to take a first degree in a chosen subject, such as physics, French or mathematics, and then proceed to a one-year full-time Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) programme that concentrates entirely on education techniques and practices.
This programme confers QTS on successful candidates.
Students who qualify for ‘home’ fee status may be able to study the PGCE programme part-time over two years.
The most common postgraduate qualifications in the UK:
MA Master of Arts
MBA Master of Business Administration
MEd Master of Education
MSc Master of Science
MPhil Master of Philosophy
LLM Master of Laws
MEng Master of Engineering
PhD Doctor of Philosophy
These courses are generally more specialised than first degrees, and focus on particular elements of an academic discipline, or on professional subject areas that are not available for undergraduate study.
Applicants generally need a Bachelor’s degree with first- or second-class honours in a relevant discipline to enter taught Master’s programmes, although those with practical experience or professional qualifications gained in the same subject area may be able to gain a place.
Courses leading to MA, MSc, and equivalent qualifications usually take one or two years of full-time study to complete, but the length and assessment methods vary greatly between courses.
Tuition and coursework are intensive, with students expected to reach a high standard of work. Many courses are assessed by a project, thesis or dissertation, but some also include written examinations, essays, presentations or ‘viva voce’ interviews.
Students usually undertake academic research only after completing a first degree (BA or BSc or equivalent), and often also a second taught degree (MA or MSc or equivalent).
There are several categories of postgraduate research work. Some MA and MSc qualifications are awarded on the basis of research and usually last one year full time, and may include some taught elements. Such degrees are not as advanced as an MPhil or PhD.
The title ‘Master of Philosophy’ is usually given to all successful candidates who undertake an original research project usually lasting two or more years in any academic discipline.
Students do not usually take examinations for this qualification, but submit a thesis, containing details of their research work, and the conclusions they have drawn from it.
A doctorate usually takes three years’ study to complete, although it can take much longer or, very rarely, shorter.
A candidate would normally complete both a Bachelor’s and a taught Master’s degree with high marks in each before considering research work leading to a doctorate.
Researchers often work part time, teaching students on Bachelor’s or taught Master’s degree programmes, or acting as tutors.
Almost all students in any discipline who successfully complete a doctoral research programme graduate as ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ (PhD). A few disciplines use slightly different titles, such as DMus for music or DBA for business administration.
There are two postgraduate Bachelor’s degrees open only to graduates of first degrees. These are the Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) run by a small number of institutions and open to graduates of several disciplines, and Bachelor of Architecture (BArch), a professional qualification open only to graduates with a first degree (BSc) or equivalent qualification in architecture.
These programmes normally last two years full time, and may include tuition and project work and research. It is possible to take the BPhil part time for up to four years. Although these are true postgraduate degrees, with a level of study comparable to an MA or MSc, they are sometimes termed ‘second undergraduate’ programmes.