Open Eye: For a career or curiosity, consider a Master's

So you've finally achieved your hard-earned degree, now what? Take up a new hobby, or just take life easy, sit back and admire the framed certificate on the wall? Or join the increasing numbers of people going on to study at Master level?
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The Independent Online
The OU, like other academic institutions, is responding to a growing demand for postgraduate study. It is now the country's largest provider of postgraduate education, in terms of student numbers, and has a clutch of new taught Master's programmes recently or just about to be launched.

You can now study for a part-time MA or MSc in the key academic disciplines of Science, Maths, Social Sciences and Humanities (Arts) - as well as more specialised and vocationally-oriented areas like management, education and computing and manufacturing, where the OU already has a strong tradition of higher degree study.

Why are more people opting for Master-level study? Gordon McLuckie, one of the OU's Regional Advisors who help students with course choice and vocational guidance, defines two broad groups. "Many students doing Master's are simply following up an interest - often people who got interested in a subject during their first degree and want to look at it in greater depth.

"On the other hand, those doing courses such as the MBA or the Computing for Commerce and Industry MSc are likely to be looking at furthering their career and obtaining a widely-recognised qualification."

Social Sciences

Dr Jeremy Mitchell, Director of the new Master's in Social Sciences programme, agrees that people are increasingly looking to a Master's to further their career. "More people now have first degrees. Thirty percent of the relevant age cohort now go on to higher education; 20 years ago it was only five percent. Employers will be looking for further, more differentiated, qualifications."

Both the "want a qualification" and the "general interest" student have been in the minds of the creators of the brand-new Social Science Master's programme which takes its first students in November.

"When we started our planning, we envisaged the largest number of students would be wanting a general degree in the field of social sciences. This would be people who have studied social sciences at undergraduate level and want to go on, but don't know exactly in what specific area. It can also act as a 'conversion degree' for those who have done a different subject for their first degree.

"Some study lines also include a dissertation which would be useful for those wanting to go on and do a research degree."

"But we also see a demand for people who want advanced training in their particular area, and a qualification with professional relevance."

To cope with this range of demand the programme has been structured as a series of discrete, mostly short courses (referred to as modules) each studied over a period of 16 weeks - or 32 weeks in the case of the few longer modules).

Following a pattern which differs from the tradition February to October OU year, each module begins in either November, or May.

After the first, foundation, module, students can study a broad mix of subjects ending in an MA in Social Sciences, or follow a particular "study line" to a more narrowly focused MA or MSc - in Cultural and Media Studies, Environment Policy and Society or Psychological Research Methods. Two further lines, Psychology and Social Policy (including Criminology) should be in place by 2000.


Launched in February this year, the MSc in Science was born after a survey of OU graduates and students indicated enthusiastic support for a Science Master's. In the event, around half the students in the first year were graduates of other universities.

It is designed for those who want to explore some of contemporary science's most pressing issues, in the two linked areas of medical science and the public understanding of science. Students can follow one of the two main themes, or mix both.

The programme is innovative in its delivery. Electronic communication and conferencing feature strongly, and the traditional printed texts and face to face tuition are complemented by CD-ROM and other electronic media.

Students can choose from four taught modules: Science and the Public and Communicating Science in one strand; Imaging and Molecules in Medicine and Issues in Brain and Behaviour in the other.

A project module, to be available from 2000, will allow students to pursue a substantial piece of independent research.


Students on this MA programme also have the opportunity to choose - opt for a wide-ranging MA in Humanities or follow a particular study line to achieve a named MA - in Literature, History or Popular Culture. The structure is flexible enough to accommodate those who start out on one line and then change their minds. New modules planned to come on stream from 2000 will add Art History, Classical studies, Music and Philosophy to the study lines.


Mathematicians and mathematically-inclined scientists and engineers can delve more deeply into particular aspects of pure and applied mathematics on this MSc programme. A good first degree in mathematics or, with a high mathematical content, is necessary to tackle the demanding material, and places are limited.


More than 3,500 students register each year for this postgraduate degree for education professionals. Most are working in teaching, advisory service, educational administration or an allied field.

The modular structure gives a wide range of topics to choose from, from adult learners to primary education. In 1997 a Doctorate of Education programme was launched to cater for students who want to develop their studies further and carry out their own research, but not in the traditional PhD framework.

The Doctorate combines taught courses with a programme of supported and supervised research.

Distance Learning

Launched in 1997, this MA programme consists of professionally-oriented and electronically-tutored postgraduate courses, available globally, except for Australia.

The programme offers a grounding in the theory and practice of open and distance education, with a strong emphasis on information technology applications.

The students are based in countries as diverse as Japan and Brazil, drawn mostly from university staffs. On-line tutoring is a feature of the course. Students use sources available on the Web and submit their assignments electronically via the Internet.


Professionals in the front line of development, based in Britain and overseas, are following the Global Programme in Development management which leads to an MSc. The programme combines courses on development with options drawn from technology, management and social sciences.


Some of the development courses are options in the Masters programme in Environmental Decision Making. This professionally-oriented MSc covers environmental protection, natural resource management, environmental legislation and the development of environmental policy and practice. Students range from managers and environmental specialists to community activists.


This well-established programme has proved very popular with manufacturing and engineering professionals wanting to update their knowledge and competence and get a recognised qualification.

Unlike most Masters programmes there are no formal academic entry requirements; suitable practical experience may be sufficient.

The MMT courses are popular with companies who ant to update their staff's skills, and more than 2,000 employers have used courses from the MMT programme to date.

Quality; safety, health and environmental management; implementation of new technologies; and design and manufacture with polymers are some of the modules available. Modules from the Computing for Commerce and Industry MSc programme are offered as option in the MMT programme.

Technology Management

More than 6,000 people have achieved their MBA with the OU since the founding of its Business School in 1983, and more than 13,000 companies sponsor students on its courses. The MBA (Technology Management) was designed for manager, engineers, technologists and scientists who want to develop their skills and manage change more effectively.

MMath and MEng

These are not true Masters, but enhanced first degrees. OU Honours graduates whose first degree included sufficient maths, science or technology courses can achieve an MMath or MEng comparatively quickly by taking two more undergraduate-level course. The MEng allows students to fulfil the educational requirement for chartered status.

Those interested in a Master's course can get individual advice from their Regional Centre. For prospectuses call 01908 858585, or ces- The OU website at also has details of courses. Closing dates for application vary but may be as early as mid-September in some cases.