uk postgraduate degrees explained

The British Council offers a wealth of information on the various postgraduate degrees and courses (which  means both class and programme in British English) available in the United Kingdom. They explain the British postgraduate education system in a very clear, succinct manner and allow you to easily search for courses based on your interests.

Master’s Degrees

UK universities award two basic types of master’s degrees: the taught master’s and the research master’s.

The taught master’s consists of coursework and a dissertation. It typically takes one year to complete, unlike its US counterpart, which takes two years. Educators have determined the two systems to be roughly equivalent, as the UK system is more specialized and condensed than the US one.

Taught programs are usually divided into three terms. As a student, you will likely take courses for the first two terms and then spend the third (normally the summer months) researching and writing a dissertation of about 10,000 words. If you are on a technological or vocational program, a practical project may replace the dissertation.

In most cases, assessment in taught programs is made on the strength of the final project and other work submitted earlier in the year, though a number of programs also require a formal written examination.

The taught master’s degrees are usually Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (MSc.) -Melissa

The research master’s, as the name implies, is research-based. It contains much independent work and little – if any – taught coursework. This master’s normally takes two years to complete, but, again, is roughly equivalent to the US M.A.

While many research master’s students continue on to a doctoral program, the degree can stand alone and offers a compromise between the classroom emphasis of the taught master’s and research focus of the doctoral level.

To earn a research master’s, you will need to produce a thesis – usually between 30,000 and 40,000 words – under the supervision of a tutor.

If you want to pursue this degree, you should have a clear idea of the subject you want to study and the background knowledge to begin advanced research.

The research master’s degrees are typically Master of Philosophy (MPhil.) or MSc. by Research. -Melissa

Doctoral Degrees

Typically, students can complete a Ph.D. (called a DPhil at a few universities) in three or four years. It is fairly common for a student to start on a research master’s degree and then proceed to the university’s Ph.D. program, with time spent on the master’s degree counting towards Ph.D. requirements.

The traditional British Ph.D. has less coursework and more independent research than its US counterpart. Increasingly, though, Ph.D.s in the UK include a taught research training component in the first year.

To earn a Ph.D., you will need to produce a thesis – 70,000 and 100,000 words – under the supervision of a tutor. As with the research master’s, when applying for a Ph.D. you should have strong background knowledge in the subject you want to study and a clear idea of what you want to research.

UK academics have recently launched the New Route Ph.D., which is a four-year program. New Route students undertake advanced independent research, but have more opportunities to take taught courses and study across disciplines than do traditional doctoral students. The program, offered at 34 universities, aims to prepare students for careers not just in academia but also in other public and private sector fields.


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