About Postgraduate Taught Education

Master’s level study offers opportunities for personal and professional development

The master’s degree is one of the most well-known and well-established postgraduate qualifications in UK higher education. Master’s degrees in the UK are diverse and broad ranging. A wide variety of master’s degrees are on offer, whose purposes can reflect both the desires and ambitions of students, and the traditions and needs of particular subjects and professions. 
QAA Characteristics Statement Master’s Degree (February 2020)

Descriptor for a higher education qualification at Level 7: Master’s Degree

Section 4.17 of the 2014 Framework for Higher Education Qualifications states that:

Master’s degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • a systematic understanding of knowledge, and a critical awareness of current problems and/​or new insights, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of their academic discipline, field of study or area of professional practice 
  • a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to their own research or advanced scholarship
  • originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline
  • conceptual understanding that enables the student:
    • to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline
    • to evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, to propose new hypotheses.

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
  • continue to advance their knowledge and understanding, and to develop new skills to a high level.

And holders will have:

  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring:
    • the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility
    • decision-making in complex and unpredictable situations
    • the independent learning ability required for continuing professional development.

What are the characteristics of a Master’s Graduate?

In 2013, the Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee published a discussion paper to try and answer the question What is masterness?”:

Master’s study, like any, is a journey — and the attributes of mastersness are transmitted/​acquired during that journey.

From What is mastersness? Discussion paper” (July 2013)

This research helpfully unpacks the characteristics expected from Master’s graduates:

Characteristic of Master’s level studyDefinition
AbstractionExtracting knowledge or meanings from sources and then using these to construct new knowledge or meanings
Depth (of Learning)Depth of learning, i.e. acquiring more knowledge and using knowledge differently. For example, engaging in a narrow topic in depth, engaging in up-to-date research or taking a multidisciplinary approach and examining something familiar and presenting it in a new innovative way.
Research and enquiryDeveloping critical research and enquiry skills & attributes
ComplexityRecognising and dealing with complexity of knowledge — including the integration of knowledge and skills, application of knowledge in practice — conceptual complexity, complexity of learning process
AutonomyTaking responsibility for own learning in terms of self-organisation, motivation, location and acquisition of knowledge
UnpredictabilityDealing with unpredictability in operational contexts — recognising that real world’ problems are by their nature messy’ and complex, being creative with the use of knowledge and experience to solve these problems
ProfessionalismDisplaying appropriate professional attitudes, behaviour and values in whatever discipline/​occupational area chosen (from academic to occupational subjects), including learning ethical behaviours, developing academic integrity, dealing with challenges to professionalism, recognising the need to reflect on practice and becoming part of a discipline/​occupational community