Model masters but minimalist sixth forms 1

October 9, 2008

In your comprehensive analysis of the Bologna Process you state "the one-year masters offered by UK universities could be seen as minimalist, even lazy" ("The long and the short of it", 2 October).

This overlooks the fact that the British masters degree was and remains the cherry on the bachelors degree cake. In pre-Reformation times the masters degree, taken within two years of the baccalaureate, typically conferred full membership of the university as a teaching body and with it the responsibility to teach.

The British masters has morphed into many variants that offer far more than "high-level skills required by the workplace". A case in point is international biomedical research training.

At the University of Edinburgh, and several other leading British research universities, the organisation and recognition of postgraduate research work frequently includes a one-year masters phase that provides the orientation and focus necessary for successful progression to project-based PhD research.

This model fits across Europe and is internationally attractive. Far from "deliberately taking the backseat", UK universities such as Edinburgh lead the way in the style, diversity and quality of masters courses offered.

Their one-year masters programmes will continue to add value to European first-cycle bachelors qualifications and facilitate superior third-cycle doctoral training long after 2010. The long and the short of it is that the UK masters system is not broken so does not need fixing.

Stephen G. Hillier, Director, postgraduate studies and international relations, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh.

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