Why it can be worth spending another few years at college

Gaining an advanced degree can help a graduate become more employable and earn a higher salary

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 06:00

Why consider a postgrad?
International and local research shows higher levels of education increase your employability and your salary potential. To progress from an undergraduate level 8 degree to a level 9 master’s or level 10 PhD develops a wide range of self-management skills that greatly increases employability.

The skills gained in postgraduate study, including writing, presentation and communications, as well as very specific employment skills, can give the edge in job interviews.

A recent study by the Higher Education Authority of 2012 graduates shows 56 per cent of honours bachelors degree graduates earn less than €25,000, with 2 per cent earning more than €45,000, whereas 11 per cent of PhD graduates earn less than €25,000 with 30 per cent earning more than €45,000.

It may seem strange that as unemployment climbed from 4 per cent to 15 per cent since 2008 the number of graduates employed increased every year. By last March, 52 per cent of 2012 graduates and 72 per cent of postgraduates had jobs. The improving opportunities for level 8 graduates since 2010 has cut the postgrad numbers, from 45 per cent in the years immediately following the crash to 37 per cent of 2012 level 8 graduates.

This trend may also reflect the cuts in postgraduate funding and grants.

Education, health and welfare postgrad programmes show very high employment. Computing graduates also fare well: 73 per cent at level 8 and 82 per cent at postgrad. Despite the perception of demand for science and maths graduates, only 44 per cent at level 8, but 63 per cent at levels 9/10, had jobs nine months after graduation.

Out of the entire cohort of 2012, 10 per cent of level 8 and 11 per cent of level 9/10 graduates got work abroad. Only 13 per cent of the postgrad class of 2012 were still looking for worknine months after graduation.

With crisis youth unemployment in Ireland and the peripheral countries of the EU, it is not surprising that 37 per cent of graduates choose postgraduate study. For many the decision is almost a prerequisite for any chance of a first job.

What’s on offer?
Qualifax.ie lists 2,538 courses at postgraduate level in 92 institutions in Ireland, including NI, an increase of 180 on last year. It ranges from accounting in UCD to zoology in NUIG.

More than 2,300 courses are in the Republic with 336 in NI universities. There are a further 100 plus courses at private colleges, with degrees from external awarding bodies such as the University of Chester.

Through Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), a Department of Education and Skills agency for the National Framework of Qualifications, we list today, on pages 8-11, postgraduate diplomas, master’s degrees, and PhD programmes, offered by Irish colleges which are validated by the National Qualification framework. Courses in Northern Ireland and others not validated by QQI can be accessed at qualifax.ie.

The validation of any qualification is central to its ultimate value to the learner. Unfortunately there are many worthless postgrad offerings online and from colleges with little or no academic credibility. So caveat emptor or buyer beware.

Should you change your area of study completely?
Many graduates consider conversion courses in a completely different field to their undergraduate studies. Such a degree can be a great springboard to more vocational or specialised area.

Typically, they are one-year taught courses and are in most subject areas, with many in business subjects (such as human resources and marketing), arts and humanities, IT and finance.

They can be the first step in a postgraduate degree or standalone qualifications and are highly valued by employers. If you feel you didn’t reach full potential at undergraduate level, a conversion course can offer a chance to redress the balance.

Convert to IT
Given the high graduate employment in the recent HEA report it is not surprising many graduates consider a conversion programme in information technology. One-year courses are usual and offer a solid grounding in theory and practice to brings students up to the level of a computer science graduate.

Many colleges offer cross-departmental programmes; examples would be the higher diploma in applied science (applied computing technology) at University College Cork, or the higher diploma in information technology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.

A postgraduate conversion course in IT can fast-track you onto a master’s such as UCC’s MSc in interactive media or an MSc in data analytics at Dublin Institute of Technology.

Convert to teaching
Pac.ie is a central application centre for postgraduate programmes in teaching. It processes applications for the new two-year professional master’s in education which, from September 2014, replaces the one-year HDip. To teach in Northern Ireland you need a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). Graduates of many disciplines can go on to a teaching postgrad, but check your primary degree meets the entry requirements for your proposed teaching subjects (see teachingcouncil.ie).

Convert to law
There are 96 postgraduate programmes in law on the Qualifax website, many open to non-law graduates.

A postgrad law degree increases your expertise and specialism in a particular area of law, but is also widely respected in many other sectors. For a career as a solicitor or barrister you must take the examinations of the professional body: the legal practice course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course. A graduate diploma in law is the fast-track route onto these courses and is ideal for students without accredited undergraduate degrees in law.

Convert to medicine
The Graduate Entry Medical School at the University of Limerick, University College Cork, University College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin, all offer a four-year medical degree

to graduates of any discipline. The degree is not strictly a postgrad programme as the award is the same as that of an undergraduate medical student.

Applicants need a 2.1 honours bachelor degree and a sufficiently high mark in the GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test). Science graduates are at an advantage in the GAMSAT test.

Convert to business
A master of business administration (MBA) is aimed at both working and recent graduates of business and other disciplines, to enhance and develop managerial and leadership skills. They can be full-time for a year or part-time over two years. See also page 2.

How can universities and ITs ensure courses are relevant to the labour market?
This huge challenge will in many ways determine our long-term future, economically, socially and for the individual. Third-level colleges will have to maintain and consolidate cooperation and integration at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Positive developments towards this goal include cooperation agreements between UCD and Trinity for example (through the Innovation Alliance partnership and the TCD-UCD Innovation Academy) and between the UL and NUIG.

Recent proposals to create technological universities by integrating existing Institutes of Technology will allow cutting-edge postgraduate programmes. Apart from pooling their existing resources, colleges have to enhance their joint-venture projects with industries, so there is a flow of information in both directions.

The emergence of what are called “interdisciplinary master’s” is an example of how Irish universities are responding to the needs of students and potential employers. UCD for example runs an MSc in biotechnology and business specifically for life-science and chemistry graduates looking for a career in management or entrepreneurship in technology and science-based fields.

The course is the result of close collaboration between UCD’s School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and its Smurfit School of Business and is open to graduates with a 2.1 or more from all third-level institutions.

Economic relevance is not confined to the sciences. Irish-language master’s options are expanding to train linguists for roles arising from the addition of Irish to the EU’s official working languages. For the past four years UCD has offered a lawyer-linguist option to complement its suite of master’s offerings in translation, editing and media on the MA Scríobh agus Cumarsáid na Gaeilge. Last year, interpreting was added to this UCD programme, complementing the existing course in NUIG.

Recognising the importance of industry links, some universities have developed master’s degrees with companies.

The Bord Bia Marketing Fellowship at the UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School is a fully-funded programme, including tuition fees and a bursary of €22,800, allowing 25 graduates with two to three years’ work experience to study intensively for a year and go on to work with some of Ireland’s food companies here and abroad.

These are but three examples from a single university, which indicate an awareness nationally of the need to be ahead of the curve in developing the postgraduate sector.

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