Master Degrees and Other Postgraduate Coursework Awards

Coursework master degrees (which should not be confused with the research master degrees described in section 4.2) do not play the same role in the Anglo Saxon world as they do in Germany. As already indicated above, the normal pathway for an ambitious and talented Australian student is via a bachelor degree with honours into a research programme (PhD or research master). Hence the Australian bachelor degree with honours plays the role which a master degree plays in the new German system. (For a fuller discussion of this see section 6.)

To understand the role which coursework master degrees play in Australia a German student should first realise that the concept of "life long learning" (which has been much discussed and praised in Germany) has not yet been put into practice in a realistic way in Germany.

In Australia the majority of students leave the university with a bachelor pass degree and take a job. After a few years a substantial number then return to university as part-time students and many of them enrol in coursework master degrees to improve their opportunities in the workplace. It is therefore not surprising that coursework master degrees have aims which are oriented to helping them in this.

Coursework master degrees therefore fall into two main categories: those which build on the knowledge and skills acquired in their first bachelor degree (in German "Aufbaustudium") and those which provide them with new knowledge and skills in a different area ("Umschulungsstudium"). To my knowledge there are no special names which distinguish between these two kinds of master degrees in the English language, but as the differences are important I have invented the names "advanced master" (for the Aufbaustudium - This is occasionally called a "cumulative master".) and "conversion master" (for the Umschulungsstudium).

Although I will frequently distinguish between these two categories, German students should realise that this distinction is not always present. There are a substantial number of coursework master degrees which have been cleverly designed to cover both categories. In such cases core units (see section 2.6) play an important role at the beginning of the course to ensure that students without a background in the area of the master degree can be given an accelerated introduction to the area. (Graduate Certificates often, but not always, are defined to provide a similar accelerated introduction to a new area of study.)

After 3 or 4 semesters Master Degree
After 2 semesters Graduate/Postgraduate Diploma
After 1 semester Graduate/Postgraduate Certificate

 Figure 4.1: Coursework Master Degrees and Other Higher Awards

Relationship between Coursework Master Degrees and Other Awards

Coursework master degrees are usually organised to run over three or four semesters if studied full-time or correspondingly longer for part-time students. Although the original purpose of many of these degrees was for part-time students, they can usually also be taken on a full-time basis, provided that sufficient lectures are offered, which is not always the case. However, in many cases it is possible for students to exit from these degrees at defined points with a lower qualification, usually called a graduate certificate (if the student exits after one semester) or a graduate – or postgraduate – diploma (if the student exits after two semesters). Sometimes a graduate/postgraduate certificate or diploma exists as a separate award, in which students can directly enrol. In other cases they must enrol in the coursework master degree and then exit as described above. This relationship is illustrated in Figure 4.1.

Advanced (Cumulative) Master Degrees/Awards

Here the idea is that a student can add to the knowledge and the skills which he acquired in his bachelor degree. This almost always means a bachelor pass degree. Consequently the entry requirements for entering a coursework master degree are normally less rigorous than those for entering a bachelor degree with honours (where at least a credit grade, sometimes a distinction grade, is required) or a master degree by research.

Such a master degree (and its exit points) might for example be relevant for a computer scientist who wishes to bring up to date his knowledge of this everchanging young discipline.

In the case of advanced master degrees the exit points might be called postgraduate certificate (unusual) and/or postgraduate diploma (more common).

Conversion Master Degrees and Other Awards

In this case the idea is that a student can acquire new knowledge and skills in an area different from that which he studied in his bachelor degree. Again this almost always means that the requirement is a bachelor pass degree.

It is of course possible for students who have already taken a bachelor degree in the appropriate area to enrol in such a course. However, they may be required to substitute other courses for equivalent courses to those which they have already taken in an earlier degree. One advantage of enrolling in a conversion master for German students is that they will usually already have completed any core units (see section 2.6) and probably have completed some of the elective units, thus enabling them to obtain advanced standing and hence complete the degree in two semesters.

Sometimes, but not always, a conversion master degree may have a requirement that a student must have several years of practical experience in the area of the master course. In this context it may surprise German students taking business courses to discover that the much sought after Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses are usually "conversion" courses in the Anglo-American world! As far as I know all MBA degrees (without further qualification in the title) from reputable universities in the Anglo-American world require that their students have considerable previous practical experience at a managerial level. This illustrates once again what little understanding many German politicians, administrators and professors had of the Anglo-American degree systems when they set about reorganising the German university system!

Master Honours Degrees and Projects

Some coursework master degrees are so designed that if the student adds a fourth semester (which usually consists of a project, which, like a bachelor with honours project, is equivalent to a German Diplom- or Masterarbeit), he can add the additional suffix (Hons) to his degree designation. This will probably qualify him (given a suitably good result) to enter a research programme (see section 4).

Occasionally other coursework master degrees include the possibility of including a project which might vary in length from 1 to 1.5 semesters, and good results in these may sometimes also be acceptable for entry to a research programme.

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