I read with interest the article on integrated degrees, which attempted to throw light on why the qualification has grown in popularity in the past five years (“Surge in popularity of integrated degrees”, News, 31 July).
We do not have the evidence to explain the increase, especially among science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, although we can make conjectures.
What we critically need to ask as a sector is, first, where is the increase occurring in terms of domiciled status? Anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been a decline in overseas students taking this type of qualification because some countries do not recognise it.
Second, is the rise in integrated master’s qualifications due to an increase in courses without a placement or with a placement? Again, anecdotal evidence suggests that it could be the former, but a rise in integrated master’s without a placement experience is not necessarily going to meet the needs of employers who say that they need graduates who are “work ready”.
Finally, undertaking an integrated master’s requires higher entry points and, as Charlie Ball of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit points out, the typical student is not from a widening participation background.
If the rise in students undertaking integrated courses is explained as a new way of financing postgraduate study, and as this becomes the trend, not only does it create a two-tier funding structure between those who opt for the three years plus one year route and the integrated path, but it will also disadvantage those who are not able to participate in the qualification on academic grounds.
What is needed is a greater understanding of the facts behind the statistics.
Principal investigator and project leader of the Postgraduate Experience Project
Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice
The Engineering Council would agree that the integrated master’s is not as well known outside the UK as we would wish, and we are aware of some instances where outbound UK integrated master’s (MEng) graduates have faced difficulties where local rules call for a bachelor’s degree. We therefore welcome the restatement by the Quality Assurance Agency about its compatibility with the Bologna Process.
However, where these are accredited by the engineering profession, we refute any suggestion that there is less rigour afforded to the MEng than to the stand-alone master’s.
Engineering degree accreditation is a rigorous process. In 2013, working with a range of stakeholders, the Engineering Council undertook its periodic five-year review of standards. During the consultations, no concerns were raised about the level of the MEng. We did, however, take the opportunity to better define what is expected from integrated and postgraduate programmes. The Engineering Council’s revised standards were published in May and are available on our website.
The article “Surge in popularity of integrated degrees” underplays one important dimension of why students might be opting for the MEng: that of students becoming more savvy about their future profession and professional registration.
In engineering, the exemplifying academic requirement for future registration as a chartered engineer (CEng) is at master’s level. Both the integrated master’s (MEng) and a stand-alone master’s (accompanied by a bachelor’s honours degree), if accredited by the engineering profession, meet this requirement. Put simply, an accredited MEng is a broader-based degree, and the stand-alone master’s is often more specialised.
The article is also disappointing in the negative slant it appears to give to the development of the MEng simply to suit the needs of employers, at a time when most other commentators are seeking greater employer relevance. More MEng graduates are exactly what the UK needs.
Chief executive officer