Research degrees: one qualification leads to another

Increased likelihood that master’s and PhD students will already have postgraduate degree

September 11, 2014

The proportion of students starting research degrees who already have a postgraduate qualification has almost doubled in the past 12 years.

Analysis by the Higher Education Funding Council for England suggests that 59 per cent of those embarking on research master’s and PhDs now have a prior postgraduate qualification, up from 33 per cent in 2002-03.

Taught postgraduate courses “increasingly” appear to be a route into research, according to Chris Millward, director of policy at Hefce.

Research degrees in education, librarianship and business have the highest proportion of entrants with existing postgraduate qualifications, at 70 per cent and above.

The physical and mathematical sciences are at the other end of the scale, with fewer than 20 per cent of new starters having prior postgraduate qualifications, according to the research, which was due to be presented at the Vitae Researcher Development conference in Manchester on 9 September.

The analysis also finds that the majority of graduates that move into postgraduate research within a year of completing an undergraduate degree are male, white and have a degree in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. About 44 per cent have an “enhanced” undergraduate qualification, such as an integrated master’s.

Hefce was due to release two further reports into postgraduate education at the event. The first, titled Understanding the Recruitment and Selection of Postgraduate Researchers by English Higher Education Institutions, finds that there are “unwritten rules” that institutions use to recruit postgraduate research (PGR) students that may not be known to all applicants.

None of the 60 universities surveyed as part of the research said that they required a master’s degree for entry to PGR programmes, but the report found it is “increasingly being seen as the preferred evidence of research experience or aptitude”.

The second report, International Comparisons in Postgraduate Education: Quality Access and Employment Outcomes, finds an increase in global competition for postgraduate students.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes