Next week thousands of ambitious graduates and final-year students from throughout Britain will converge on London's Business Design Centre, hoping to improve further their academic or vocational qualifications.

They will be visiting the Postgraduate Study and Training Fair to meet representatives of institutions offering higher degrees or professional qualifications and to attend a range of seminars and other events on postgraduate study.

The fair is organised by the University of London Careers Advisory Service (Ulcas) and sponsored by the Independent. It is Britain's only national postgraduate fair and is free to all graduates and final year students, The fair was first run in 1993. Thesecond, last year, attracted over 4,000 graduates and finalists from as far afield as Aberdeen. The need for such an event has become increasingly obvious, Postgraduate qualifications have become ever more important in the job market, but choosing and applying for such courses remains relatively difficult, Anne-Marie Martin, director of Ulcas, puts the growing importance of postgraduate qualifications in the job market down to a number of factors. "Because so many more people are coming out at first degree level this will soon become the norm," she said.

"In future, to stand out, you'll probably need a postgraduate qualification. Moreover, there is some evidence that the standard of first degrees is not identical across all universities - so some employers are now looking for higher degrees."

Furthermore, she says that with Britain becoming ever more involved in the European Union, careers are becoming `Europeanised' and postgraduate qualifications more important. European employers attach greater importance to academic attainments than the British. "Because European first degrees take longer, employers there don't give the same credit to our first degrees and so look for Masters' degrees from us," Ms Martin said.

There are also a number of hurdles in the path of graduates and final-year students thinking about taking a postgraduate course, whether for vocational reasons or from personal interest. Drawing up a shortlist of suitable courses can be difficult as there are few readily available and detailed sources of information on the vast range of options.

To get hold of prospectuses and brochures for the shortlisted courses, and find out if grants are available, can involve a lot of correspondence.

Moreover, individual applications have to be submitted for each course because there is no central clearing house as there is for first degree courses.

The fair provides easy access to information on a wide variety of postgraduate courses and makes it easier for visitors to compare courses and institutions.

Courses with the same title can often have widely differing content and teaching methods. The aim is to help visitors to make an informed choice on the most suitable course for them.

The fair will have around 75 exhibitors. In addition to academic institutions and departments, there will for the first time also be several professional institutions and associations. These include the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, the Institute of Purchasing and Supply, the Library Association, and the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Ulcas will itself have a stand at which visitors can get objective advice on careers and higher education. Up to 10 careers advisers will be on duty at a time.

A programme of seminars will also run thoughout the fair. Among the topics covered will be: Why study? Thoughts on choosing your next step Which course? Academic Options Which course? Professional and vocational courses Which course? Increasing your skills Financing your course Postgraduate study abroad Self-marketing Visitors can just turn up on the day. However, to make the most of the event, Ulcas careers advisers strongly recommend that they prepare themselves beforehand by visiting any Graduate Careers Advisory Service and collecting the free leaflet on the fair, and by studying a copy of the catalogue, The leaflet gives general details of the fair and how to get there. The catalogue gives details of all the exhibitors and their courses and lists all the seminars and other activities.

This will allow visitors to plan their day by listing the people they want to see and the seminars they wish to visit. Those who arrive early have the best chance of seeing everyone they want.

Personal copies of the catalogue, priced £l.60, can also be collected beforehand from Ulcas at 50 Gordon Square, London WC1, or from most University of London College Careers Offices. Although no longer available by post, the catalogue will of course also be available on the day at the door.

The Postgraduate Study and Training Fair, Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street Islington, London N1.

Nearest tube station - Angel. Open Wednesday 1 February 1200-2000 and Thursday 2 February 1200-1900. Admission free.