Should I do a Masters in South Africa? Can I study alternative therapies?

Cape Town calls

Cape Town calls

Q. I'm a UK student thinking about doing a Masters in development studies/economics. Should I go for a high-profile department in the UK, such as at the LSE or Sussex, or would it be OK to apply to the University of Cape Town, where the fees are lower? And how useful would such a Masters be?

A. I can see you now, wind in your hair, surfboard under arm. This is the image conjured up by Cape Town. But, in addition to the climate and scenery, it has a highly regarded university. The University of Cape Town (UCT) is the oldest university in South Africa; it has produced three Nobel laureates and is the highest-ranked African university in the Shanghai Top 500.

If you're aiming to work as an economist in a developing country, South Africa is an exciting place to be. But you need to examine the university's programmes - and electives - carefully. Most important, you need to look at the expertise of the staff, and find out how many alumni have gone on to work with non-governmental organisations or UN agencies. While Masters fees for international students start at around $4,000 (£2,090) a year, you have to pay this in full before registering. Also, UCT is not as well known as the LSE or Sussex, so you'll have some explaining to do in your CV and at future interviews.

The London School of Economics offers five Masters programmes in the area of development studies, costing around £8,000 for a UK student. Graduates go straight on to work for major organisations such as the UN, the Red Cross and Save the Children. The bonus of the LSE is that you can network with students from all over the world.

As to whether a Masters is really needed, that depends on the job you're after. If you want to work for a UN agency or in policy, you do need a Masters. It also helps if you have a few years' experience in the field before taking the postgraduate route. Sussex University offers an MA in development economics, and many of its students go into operational work in developing countries, while others apply for Overseas Development Institute fellowships. Sussex also boasts the Institute of Development Studies, a leading research institute. The fees for UK students are £3,300. Which means, depending on the exchange rate, that Cape Town University doesn't work out much cheaper after all.

Holistic approach

Q. I'm a few months into a counselling degree, and my aim is to provide a holistic hospice service specialising in alternative treatments for people who are terminally ill. Will it be possible to incorporate my interests into a postgraduate qualification?

A. Yes, it will. These days, there are postgraduate degrees (taught and research) in holistic approaches to healing, complementary medicine and complementary therapy studies. There's also a postgraduate diploma in pain-relief techniques. Consult the Research Council for Complementary Medicine for course listings (

I'm not certain what "alternative treatments for people who are terminally ill" actually involves, but from your CV I see that you have diplomas in alternative therapies such as holistic reflexology, so I'm assuming that this is the sort of service that you'd like to offer. Complementary therapy in hospices is a growing area, and many hospices and palliative-care providers use alternative therapies alongside mainstream medicine. Touch therapies are particularly popular. Hospice Information ( has a training section with details of courses. Also, try the National Association of Complementary Therapists in Hospice and Palliative Care on 0113 368 9466.

If you're interested in setting up your own business, most high-street banks can help with a business plan, and you could try the Prospects website (

With thanks to the London School of Economics, the University of Sussex, Hospice Information, and Graduate Prospects

Send your queries to Caitlin Davies to reach her by 31 March at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail