A blueprint of how higher education institutions might allow lifelong learners to design their own properly validated masters courses has been produced by Anglia Polytechnic University.
The university's Centre for Accreditation and Negotiated Awards has produced a 68-page booklet Negotiating Mastery: developing good practice in individually negotiated masters degrees.
It explains how the university has set up a management and support system which enables people with non-traditional qualifications and perhaps no first degree to devise and then collect credits towards their own MA or MSc awards. To avoid unfair comparisons over relative worth, the negotiated courses must be ones not listed in the prospectus.
Candidates present their course designs to the university which then decides whether the applicant has assessed the relevance of his or her programme to their career and whether the person is able enough.
The university ensures that the negotiated field masters programmes be approved and monitored by its regional approvals board and backed by staff, thus guaranteeing learning quality and standards.
Mike Taylor, postgraduate coordinator within the negotiated field, said: "There is a sense of empowerment. Instead of just coming to university and being a victim of academia it gives individuals a certain control of their studies which allows the learning to be more specific and relevant to their particular needs."
The system incorporates accreditation of prior certificated and experiential learning which is seen as an integral part of the programme presented for validation, similar to a dissertation. This avoids the common criticism that this is an "easy option" or "pick and mix" degree.
There are 55 people studying in negotiated programmes at Anglia and the university plans to expand the numbers over the next few years.