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4 Types and purpose of Master’s degrees

In the UK, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) is the body that broadly defines the level and standards expected of degree qualifications. UK Master’s programmes are aligned with the QAA’s Master’s Degree Characteristics Statement (September 2015 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ). This requires all Master’s-level degree courses offered within the UK to conform to 180 CATS credits (equivalent to 1800 hours of study), and to meet specific standards concerning learning outcomes and skills development as part of the degree. UK Master’s degrees are also aligned with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA), ensuring that recognised UK qualifications have ‘Europe-wide equivalence and standing’ (QAA, 2015a). The characteristics and purpose of Master’s degrees, specified by the QAA, are summarised below.

Box 1 Master’s degree characteristics

Master’s degrees may broadly be organised into three categories – ‘research’, ‘specialised/advanced study’ and ‘professional/practice’… Master’s degrees are delivered through a range of models and modes, and are often at the cutting edge of practice in terms of distance or remote learning. Flexibility in delivery is considered key to the ongoing success of Master’s degrees… Where Master’s degrees aim to prepare students for entry to a particular field of employment, practice or profession, or for progression or transfer within it, a professional, statutory or regulatory body (PSRB) external to the provider may accredit the programme. Graduates of such programmes may be eligible for a particular professional status or may be permitted to enter a further period of practice, study or examination leading to the profession…

Source: QAA (2015a)

Box 2 Purpose of Master’s degrees

  • enabling students to focus on a particular aspect of a broader subject area in which they have prior knowledge or experience through previous study or employment
  • enabling students to focus on a particular subject area or field of study in greater depth than they encountered during the course of previous study or experience (this may include enabling students to develop knowledge of a new subject or field of study in combination with a relevant subject area in which they have prior knowledge or experience, or enabling students to undertake inter or multidisciplinary study)
  • enabling students to undertake a research project on a topic within the area of interest that makes up the majority of the overall assessment
  • enabling students to learn how to conduct research and undertake training in research methods, often linked to a particular subject or field of study
  • enabling students to specialise or to become more highly specialised in an area of employment or practice related to a particular profession
  • supporting progression towards professional registration in a particular profession.
Source: QAA (2015a)