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    My question is what is the purpose of Master's degrees as of 2013 in the UK?

    At the moment, as things stand today, Master's degrees in the UK universities are used by some foreigners (inclusive of EUs) as a stepping stone to employment in the UK. (Only probably less than 10% manage to get a job here though.) It creates jobs in higher education (no argues that) and those foreigners (exclusive of EUs who don't go through the rigorous document checks) bring money. To those students, Master's degrees are like the life in the UK test.

    There are foreign students who want to spend a year abroad in the UK. They can do a Master's degree. To those students, Master's degrees are like the Big Ben.

    Master's degrees are horribly expensive. Most UK students don't do it. And rightly so. Most do fine without a Master's. No one fails a Master's degree. You'd have to be an idiot to fail a Master's degree.

    There are UK students who need to spend another year in a sheltered environment before hitting the labour market and they do study a Master's degree. There are UK students who want to see if they can make a career in academia and they do a Master's degree to test that. There are small minority UK students who actually do a Master's to make themselves more competitive in certain industries. There are switchers wanting to change a career and they can do a Master's. Apart from these students, Master's students are all foreigners.
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    There are UK students who need to spend another year in a sheltered environment before hitting the labour market and they do study a Master's degree. There are UK students who want to see if they can make a career in academia and they do a Master's degree to test that. There are small minority UK students who actually do a Master's to make themselves more competitive in certain industries. There are switchers wanting to change a career and they can do a Master's. Apart from these students, Master's students are all foreigners.
    You forgot me - a UK student who did a Masters because I actually wanted to know more about my subject.

    Doing a Masters in order to gain knowledge. Who'd-a thunk it, eh?
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    My question is what is the purpose of Master's degrees as of 2013 in the UK?

    At the moment, as things stand today, Master's degrees in the UK universities are used by some foreigners (inclusive of EUs) as a stepping stone to employment in the UK. (Only probably less than 10% manage to get a job here though.) It creates jobs in higher education (no argues that) and those foreigners (exclusive of EUs who don't go through the rigorous document checks) bring money. To those students, Master's degrees are like the life in the UK test.

    There are foreign students who want to spend a year abroad in the UK. They can do a Master's degree. To those students, Master's degrees are like the Big Ben.

    Master's degrees are horribly expensive. Most UK students don't do it. And rightly so. Most do fine without a Master's. No one fails a Master's degree. You'd have to be an idiot to fail a Master's degree.

    There are UK students who need to spend another year in a sheltered environment before hitting the labour market and they do study a Master's degree. There are UK students who want to see if they can make a career in academia and they do a Master's degree to test that. There are small minority UK students who actually do a Master's to make themselves more competitive in certain industries. There are switchers wanting to change a career and they can do a Master's. Apart from these students, Master's students are all foreigners.
    Sounds like someone failed their masters...
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    My question is what is the purpose of Master's degrees as of 2013 in the UK?

    At the moment, as things stand today, Master's degrees in the UK universities are used by some foreigners (inclusive of EUs) as a stepping stone to employment in the UK. (Only probably less than 10% manage to get a job here though.) It creates jobs in higher education (no argues that) and those foreigners (exclusive of EUs who don't go through the rigorous document checks) bring money. To those students, Master's degrees are like the life in the UK test.

    There are foreign students who want to spend a year abroad in the UK. They can do a Master's degree. To those students, Master's degrees are like the Big Ben.

    Master's degrees are horribly expensive. Most UK students don't do it. And rightly so. Most do fine without a Master's. No one fails a Master's degree. You'd have to be an idiot to fail a Master's degree.

    There are UK students who need to spend another year in a sheltered environment before hitting the labour market and they do study a Master's degree. There are UK students who want to see if they can make a career in academia and they do a Master's degree to test that. There are small minority UK students who actually do a Master's to make themselves more competitive in certain industries. There are switchers wanting to change a career and they can do a Master's. Apart from these students, Master's students are all foreigners.
    Just because you can't afford one doesn't mean you should bash others who can...jealously is a terrible thing :rolleyes:.
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    No one fails a Master's degree. You'd have to be an idiot to fail a Master's degree.
    You make some good points, unfortunately they are mixed in with nonsense like the above.

    Another key reason 'to do a Masters' is that if you want universities to remain alive, and to remain at the top of the educational system, you need to fill them with lecturers and professors. They need research training, and a Masters degree is in many disciplines a key part of that research training.

    As for the rest of it, with immigration tightened as much as it has been, it is now much more difficult to use postgraduate education to get a job. You can't linger in the country afterwards like you once could. Tighten things much more and we are going to start asphyxiating our cutting-edge industries.

    As for students who want to spend another year in a sheltered university environment... if they've got the money, why not. Some people spend that kind of money putting bumpers and trim on Vauxhall Corsas. Some people drink it all. Doing a Masters can be a waste of time, but it's a very pleasant and productive one.
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    No one fails a Master's degree. You'd have to be an idiot to fail a Master's degree.
    Taught Masters courses involve not only intensive study on advanced topics, often including study of the state of the art in actively researched areas, but also original contributions to knowledge. An idiot would never pass the coursework part of the degree, let alone perform original research; it takes intelligence, drive and talent.

    Postgraduate degrees are essential to progress to the upper echelons of many different organisations; it's essentially mandatory for business executives, for example, to pursue MBAs, or MSc/MAs in management/finance/etc. Scientific or technical organisations often have project managers, researchers, or even middle/upper management with postgraduate degrees in their area of specialisation. Computer security firms are often staffed with people who either have postgraduate degrees in the field, or significant professional experience. The officer corps in the military also often end up doing postgraduate degrees at defence or war colleges (see: Cranfield). This is because they give people a very real edge, by virtue of their expert knowledge of a subfield of their main discipline!

    Even if you end up in an area where they are not mandatory for advancement, the increasing numbers of people with undergraduate degrees means that it is more and more difficult to distinguish yourself from others; postgraduate degrees can do this.

    Finally, if you want an academic career, a Masters is crucial for not only preparing you for the pain/suffering/rollercoaster of PhD study, not to mention giving you a broader/deeper grasp of your field so that you can actually pick a reasonable thesis topic, but it's also very important for making a competitive application for the scarce funding.

    Enough ranting, I should know better than to feed the troll...
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    Contrary to what other posters have suggested, I think your question is actually quite reasonable.

    The employment argument is redundant when you look at the figures involved. It is all well and good saying job x requires a postgraduate qualification, but in reality is it probably does not; the lack of job opportunities have simply increased the entry requirements for those applying. You could easily have 100 candidates, all with PhDs, applying for a lectureship. Then you have thousands of masters students self-funding themselves for a year in the hope of getting PhD funding. People have to jump through more hoops than ever before, while the process is being monetised. In the space of a generation, we have gone from a system where someone did not pay anything to attend university and could have gone straight onto a PhD to a system where everyone pays tuition fees over three separate stages, and you even have to pay some universities to look at your application...

    Klix88's argument is the only one which is even remotely defensible, but she has PhD funding so you could question her motivation (i.e. would she self-fund her PhD?).
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    (Original post by evantej)
    Klix88's argument is the only one which is even remotely defensible, but she has PhD funding so you could question her motivation (i.e. would she self-fund her PhD?).
    Actually, I am self-funding and spending the last of my life's savings on my PhD. The money runs out before I complete and it's still worth doing, as I'm still learning from it.
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    What a sad statement from an OP stuck in a utilitarian world view.
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    (Original post by nonswimmer)
    You make some good points, unfortunately they are mixed in with nonsense like the above.
    Perhaps, I posted the tread in a wrong section. My point is simple, it's a business and those who work in higher education need to satisfy their clients.

    Have you actually seen the statistics about pass/fail rates for Master's? Have you worked in university administration? I have when I was a student. When you actually get involved in running courses, we don't think about research in the way you guys described. We talk about numbers.

    One statistics I have seen: 30 students enrolled on a Master's course that charged almost twice as much as the standard undergrad fee (of today). 10 UK students, 3 EUs, the rest international. 90% left with Merit or Distinction. 10% got pass. No one failed. This was a good course at a great university by any standards. Most Master's courses admit far more than 30 (and usually get a lot more EU students) and charge more than twice the standard undergrad fee.

    Don't get me wrong. We are grateful that people decided to enrol on a Master's programme and we sincerely hope that you get your dream job. However, I believe that in most cases (excluding switchers) if you can't get a job with your undergraduate degree, you can't get that job with a Master's either.

    As for MBAs, people pay to have the name of the school in their CVs. MBA students don't learn from lectures, they learn from their peers and they pay to have access to alumni networks and other privileges that come with MBA. We charge whatever we want to charge as long as students can realise their returns on their investment. The fee is partly determined by the market, partly by how much we can charge.

    The way I see where the current UK postgraduate education is going is the universities will put more emphases on non-academic elements of their courses. Learning from peers is important. Making contacts is important. Maintaining the university's reputation at any cost is important because what students are really after is they want to be able to write in their CVs that they have been to Cambridge, Oxford, LSE or Imperial or "I was educated at one of the top 10 universities in the UK."

    Students are not using their life saving simply to learn.
    Only if life was that simple . . . Can we still find such simpletons in these competitive labour markets?
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    (Original post by balotelli12)
    What a sad statement from an OP stuck in a utilitarian world view.
    When I was working at university, I got these statements all the time from students who were living on a handout from their parents. I always said "what is the alternative?"

    Do you want to form a commune or something? Please do go ahead. Just remember once you decide to live outside the mainstream society, we can't help you with your problems. If you got raped in the commune, who would punish the rapist? Would the rape be still a crime in your commune?
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    (Original post by Klix88)
    Actually, I am self-funding and spending the last of my life's savings on my PhD. The money runs out before I complete and it's still worth doing, as I'm still learning from it.
    Self-funding while you write up is not the same as self-funding your whole PhD. You deliberately avoided answering my question.
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    (Original post by evantej)
    Self-funding while you write up is not the same as self-funding your whole PhD. You deliberately avoided answering my question.
    I began my PhD in January of this year and have been self-funding from the start.

    I'm certainly a way off writing up. I think you may be muddling me up with someone else.
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    I think the OP has some valid points that have got lost in his straw man argument - and I would say they are valid points that extend to tertiary education in general.

    The comment about "most UK students don't do it" is spot on. Most students, anywhere, don't do it. There is a reason for that: that the presumed academic cut-off as well as motivation for doing it should both only be valid for a small amount of people. This also used to be the case, to a somehwat lesser extent, for a bachelors as well of course. Possibly this idea that everyone "should" go to uni has also increased pressure on people to get a masters to differentiate themselves (and yes I agree this in itself is not valid across all situations).

    I'm very happy with my own reasons and motivations for doing a masters, and I know enough other people in a similar position to me. But I also know people who seem to be doing it for the "wrong" reasons.

    As for the rant about foreigners in the OP, well... The best of students from foreign countries may want to advance their education in a country where the unis are better than they have at home. I don't see a problem with that. And their higher fees help subsidise the unis. So it rather seems a win-win more than a lose-lose situation to me.

    (I know I've presented these arguments in a largely black-and-white way and obviously there are lots of shades of grey.)
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    (Original post by evantej)
    It is all well and good saying job x requires a postgraduate qualification, but in reality is it probably does not; the lack of job opportunities have simply increased the entry requirements for those applying.
    True in some cases - but not for all. For example, it's typically necessary to do a MSc to get a CEng (required in some disciplines for years now), an LLM for many law roles, and for areas in health and librarianship (just to pluck two out of the air).

    (Original post by evantej)
    You could easily have 100 candidates, all with PhDs, applying for a lectureship.
    True in a few disciplines - actually very rare in many sciences for all bar a few very extreme cases. I recently was an external panel member for a Russell Group university seeking three new posts - they'd nowhere near that candidate list.

    (Original post by evantej)
    Then you have thousands of masters students self-funding themselves for a year in the hope of getting PhD funding.
    Again, varies by discipline - in computing (my own field) there are very few aiming or even interested in PhDs, and are pursuing an MSc for their own career reasons.

    (Original post by evantej)
    People have to jump through more hoops than ever before, while the process is being monetised. In the space of a generation, we have gone from a system where someone did not pay anything to attend university and could have gone straight onto a PhD to a system where everyone pays tuition fees over three separate stages, and you even have to pay some universities to look at your application...
    Absolutely. We've also gone from having had 7-8% at university when I did (just about 15% if you added in the polytechnics) to a point where we are close to 50%. That's a radical shift, regardless of external economics. Conversely, tax regimes for graduates have also shifted markedly - base rate slipped from as much as 30% in the "free" era to 20% now (and other changes to VAT etc. in counterbalance).

    With so many changes there is a risk of confusing the impact of several into one....

    George
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    There are UK students who need to spend another year in a sheltered environment before hitting the labour market and they do study a Master's degree.
    Aside from your zenophobia, this is actually a valid point. Many Final Year students think this is a way of 'extending' all the fun they've had at Uni and use 'doing a Masters' to put off the dreadful day when they actually have to grow-up and apply for jobs. In reality, aside from obviously vocational courses aimed at a specific job, most Masters dont give you any edge in the job market - because, at the end of it, you are still a fresh graduate with no experience. Nor does a Masters 'improve' a dodgy first degree result or give you a one-year version of the degree you wish you'd done in the first place. It is also monumentally expensive.

    Many 21 year olds 'straight-from-school-to-University-then-want-to-do-a-Masters' are simply deluding themselves - with the blatant connivance of Universities who just want the income from fees and will come up with ever more ludicrously titled Masters degrees to hook them in.
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    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    Perhaps, I posted the tread in a wrong section. My point is simple, it's a business and those who work in higher education need to satisfy their clients.
    Mmm.. that's not quite right.

    If your point is about the institutions, most universities are not-for-profit organisations - I'd suggest that if you're running a business, profit is necessary. Even for not-for-profits, though, you still need to break even.

    Of your point is about the aim of students, then perhaps you need to frame it in that way - as in, what are the benefits students need, aspire to or seek?

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    Have you actually seen the statistics about pass/fail rates for Master's?
    Mmm... yes. Your point is what, exactly?

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    Have you worked in university administration? I have when I was a student. When you actually get involved in running courses, we don't think about research in the way you guys described. We talk about numbers.
    Administrative staff of course monitor this stuff. However, administrative staff are not researchers in most institutions. Institutionally, universities need to break even (of course) and a lot of concern through the recruitment phase is on numbers - and applications are typically handled by professional services staff. However, when you're teaching on a course, as a researcher, that isn't the consideration any longer.

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    One statistics I have seen: 30 students enrolled on a Master's course that charged almost twice as much as the standard undergrad fee (of today). 10 UK students, 3 EUs, the rest international. 90% left with Merit or Distinction. 10% got pass. No one failed. This was a good course at a great university by any standards. Most Master's courses admit far more than 30 (and usually get a lot more EU students) and charge more than twice the standard undergrad fee.
    Well, if you're only recruiting 30, of course you should be cherry picking the students. As an admissions tutor, anyone who I pick should be capable of passing (N.B.: this doesn't guarantee they will pass). If you're being selective, that's the outcome you should expect. Sounds like the admissions tutor was doing their job well, to me.

    A case study of one degree is, of course, a poor sample in the big scheme of things. For a fair comparison, many London-based Russell Group universities in computing charge £6k or less for an MSc that is 3 semesters long, compared to £9k for a 2 semester year of undergraduate. Not all postgraduate degrees are MBAs or the like. HEFCE data suggests that the long-term annual income differential is £5k for masters graduates. There is certainly self-selection there, but it's not the only factor.

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    Don't get me wrong. We are grateful that people decided to enrol on a Master's programme and we sincerely hope that you get your dream job. However, I believe that in most cases (excluding switchers) if you can't get a job with your undergraduate degree, you can't get that job with a Master's either.
    Mmm... "I believe" is simply an opinion, ultimately. I'd concur that in many cases a postgraduate qualification on its own won't help, but if you need to switch or specialise, especially in qualification-driven domains, it certainly does. The career impact is, quite naturally, a key issue as to the financial benefits of an MSc/MA, but not everyone is after that benefit.

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    As for MBAs, people pay to have the name of the school in their CVs. MBA students don't learn from lectures, they learn from their peers and they pay to have access to alumni networks and other privileges that come with MBA. We charge whatever we want to charge as long as students can realise their returns on their investment. The fee is partly determined by the market, partly by how much we can charge.
    It's quite natural that one of the key benefits of any degree is the social network. This is particularly true of (say) Cambridge, Oxford or LSE. The theory of cultural capital is very relevant here, and the professional networks you access through your peers and lecturers is a perfectly valid and reasonable part of the benefits a degree can offer. I've known people 'upgrade' to a more prestigious institution for an MA just for that very reason.

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    The way I see where the current UK postgraduate education is going is the universities will put more emphases on non-academic elements of their courses. Learning from peers is important. Making contacts is important. Maintaining the university's reputation at any cost is important because what students are really after is they want to be able to write in their CVs that they have been to Cambridge, Oxford, LSE or Imperial or "I was educated at one of the top 10 universities in the UK."
    Again, cultural product is at play here. Universities are powerhouses of cultural work in any case - research and learning aren't simply financial drivers of society. Prestige and success are drivers for most academics, albeit not necessarily in strict monetary senses.

    (Original post by WhatIsThis?)
    Students are not using their life saving simply to learn.
    Only if life was that simple . . . Can we still find such simpletons in these competitive labour markets?
    Some people do this, and they are far from universally simpletons. Many do it completely consciously as a challenge to themselves for personal reward. Others compete in sport, raise families, etc. etc. it's not illegitimate. A degree that stands on one strand of benefits alone is a weak plant that could readily die in adverse circumstances. Good quality qualifications bring together cultural, financial and intellectual benefits, and students can then maximise the outcomes that suit them when they enter, study and graduate.

    Or am I missing something?

    George
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    I would agree that many foreigners do see the masters degree as a way to test out life in the UK, but there is nothing necessarily wrong with that as it keeps the reputation of the UK HE sector high and encourages highly skilled people to be a part of our economy rather than someone else's. They've always been somewhat of a cash cow for universities too, but they do have to have some way of funding themselves.

    The real problem with defining whether masters degrees are really valuable is that there are a vast array of different masters degrees with different objectives. I believe that each can be useful to the right person at the right time, but, like another level of education, not everyone is in the real place to truly benefit from a course when the decided to undertake it.
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    (Original post by Klix88)
    I began my PhD in January of this year and have been self-funding from the start.

    I'm certainly a way off writing up. I think you may be muddling me up with someone else.
    I think this is probably true. Apologizes.
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    (Original post by gbuchanan)
    True in some cases - but not for all. For example, it's typically necessary to do a MSc to get a CEng (required in some disciplines for years now), an LLM for many law roles, and for areas in health and librarianship (just to pluck two out of the air).
    True in a few disciplines - actually very rare in many sciences for all bar a few very extreme cases. I recently was an external panel member for a Russell Group university seeking three new posts - they'd nowhere near that candidate list.
    Again, varies by discipline - in computing (my own field) there are very few aiming or even interested in PhDs, and are pursuing an MSc for their own career reasons. […]
    I never suggested it was true in all cases as there are definitely some careers where postgraduate education is necessary. This is why I used academia as an example. But I do not really think librarianship, or ‘archive and information management’ as it is often called, requires a master’s degree at all. Entry into lots of professions have been similarly increased for ideological reasons or because a lack of jobs. Nursing and teaching are a perfect example. Nurses now have to do a degree. Teachers are supposed to be qualified to postgraduate level. (The latter has failed completely).

    The sciences are different because graduates have more work opportunities open to them. (Heck, it is not always true even in the sciences. I work part of the week in a Biomedical Sciences department and they received loads of applications for a recent post). I was a computing student once upon a time so I know where you are coming from. But if you are an English student then becoming a lecturer is one of the most prestigious careers you can aspire to, and one of the most well paid. This is why there has been an increase in entry requirements. There are too many English students chasing fewer and fewer relevant work opportunities. The same holds true for most students. Even those in healthcare are not assured jobs at the end of their degree.
 
 
 
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