Further education colleges will be able to offer postgraduate-level courses following the development of new vocational qualifications by awarding body City and Guilds.
The masters professional diploma has been created as a logical progression from the higher professional diploma, which came into being with foundation degrees. So far, six MPDs have been accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the areas of learning and development, hospitality and catering, and sport and recreation.
City and Guilds hopes that the MPD will encourage further education students who wish to progress to postgraduate level to enrol initially on an HPD course.
The awarding body has also been working with Leeds Metropolitan University to create a new qualifications structure that will allow the HPD to form the first year of a foundation degree. HPD students who gain a full foundation degree could then take the MPD, if they wished, at the same college where they started. It would then be possible to move to a full masters degree at a university.
Philip Riseborough, City and Guilds head of higher level qualifications, said it had been easy to align HPDs with foundation degrees because the two were developed simultaneously. HPDs and MPDs were designed to open vocational routes to higher levels for students who might not otherwise progress beyond level 3 in further education, he said.
"There are potentially thousands of students who may be encouraged to move onwards through these new qualifications," he said.