Postgraduate options: Moving up a level to master the job market

Research shows that advanced degree holders are more employable and earn higher salaries

Young people throughout the European Union represent the largest cohort of jobseekers that cannot secure long-term employment.

The rate of unemployment for young people ranges from 20-25 per cent in some countries to as high as 50 per cent in many southern European economies.

However, it is absolutely clear that the higher your standard of education, the better chance you have of getting a job and of being paid well for it. That alone is a very strong argument for graduates to continue their educational journey to postgraduate level and beyond.

International and local research shows higher levels of education increase your employability as well as your salary.


Furthermore, with up to 40 per cent of degree holders going on to study at postgraduate level, the chances of getting an interview for an advertised job with a bachelor’s degree, when there may be lots of postgrad applicants, diminishes each year.

This can be the case even when the skills for the job may not need any postgrad qualifications.

So, an advanced degree can help a graduate become more employable and earn a higher salary than if they had opted to enter the labour market straight away following graduation.

To move from a level 8 degree to a level 9 master’s or level 10 PhD requires a wide range of self-management skills that increase employability.

The skills gained in postgrad study include writing, presentation and communications, as well as specific employment capabilities which can give a candidate the edge in job interviews.

Holders of postgrad degrees fared best in securing employment following the 2008 crash than any other sector of the labour force.

The most recent data published by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on the success rates of graduates shows that 51 per cent of 2013 undergraduates had jobs by mid-2014 but the numbers for the same time period securing jobs at postgrad level was far higher, at 73 per cent.

However, the current economic uplift which is improving opportunities for level 8 graduates has reduced the postgrad numbers, from 45 per cent in the years immediately following the crash to 40 per cent of 2013 level 8 graduates.

This trend may also reflect the cuts imposed by the Government in postgrad funding and grants.

When it comes to salaries, the most recent HEA study of 2013 graduates shows 52 per cent of honours bachelors graduates earn less than €25,000 a year, with 3 per cent earning more than €45,000, whereas 11 per cent of PhD graduates earn less than €25,000 and 28 per cent earn more than €45,000.

What sectors offer the greatest employment opportunities?

Education, health and welfare postgraduate programmes boast very high levels of employment. Computing graduates also fare well, with 77 per cent of level 8 degree holders and 78 per cent of postgrad degree holders in employment.

Despite the perception of demand for science and maths graduates, only 41 per cent of graduates with level 8 qualifications had jobs nine months after graduation. This compares to 66 per cent of those with qualifications at levels 9 or 10.

Of all 2013 graduates, 12 per cent of those with level 8 qualifications and 15 per cent of those with level 9 or 10 secured employment abroad. Only 11 per cent of the postgrad class of 2013 were still looking for work nine months after graduation.

Co-operation between colleges and employers

Universities and institutes of technologies (ITs) work with industry representatives to ensure that courses are labour-market friendly. All third-level colleges have to maintain and consolidate this co-operation and integration at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Colleges will often pool their expertise to ensure their programmes conform to international standards and meet specialised international labour needs.

Examples include a one-year master’s in medical device design that combines science and engineering modules, offered jointly by University College Dublin and Trinity. The course is subsidised through the HEA graduate skills conversion programme. Tuition fees are €3,800.

This is one of a small number of joint offerings from UCD and Trinity; many other courses are offered jointly by universities and ITs, for example University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology offer a joint biomedical science master's.

UCD has also partnered with Utrecht University in the Netherlands to offer a new two-year double-master's degree, an MSc in European governance. It is aimed at graduates in social sciences and related disciplines.

In the shadow of an impending Brexit vote, this programme investigates vital questions facing European countries and gives students the skills to answer these questions and formulate appropriate responses to the challenges they pose.

The first year takes place in UCD and focuses on law, governance of the EU, and European political economy. The second year is based in Utrecht University where a research internship is part of the master’s thesis. Interdisciplinary master’s The emergence of interdisciplinary master’s is an example of how universities are responding to the needs of students and their potential employers.

UCD, for example, runs several master’s programmes which combine business with specialisation in an area of industry.

The MSc in energy and environmental finance is aimed at graduates with a background in a number of different fields such as economics, finance, engineering, environmental science and physics.

Building on a long and successful collaboration with Bord Bia with its international marketing fellowship, and in recognition of the critical importance of the agrifood sector to the Irish and global economy, the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business is working with the UCD's School of Agriculture and Food Science to offer an MSc in food business strategy.

While offering a conversion option to a wide range of undergraduate profiles, the course is particularly suitable for those with a background in agriculture-based or other science degrees who wish to develop their business expertise as well as holders of more business- focused degrees interested in moving into the food sector.

Dublin City University's interdisciplinary master's degrees include one in engineering in healthcare technologies offered in collaboration with Maynooth University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. It also has an innovative MSc in science communication and an MSc in translation technology.

Trinity College Dublin offers an interdisciplinary master's in dementia studies for students from a variety of backgrounds including nursing, medicine, occupational therapy, social work, physiotherapy, chaplaincy and other disciplines.

Sustainability, conservation, climate change, and energy regulation are areas of critical global importance and students from a variety of backgrounds have an opportunity to make an impact, through interdisciplinary masters training.

A joint international course, an MSc in global change, ecosystem science and policy, developed between UCD School and Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, has been designed in response to these challenges and will suit science graduates who wish to develop a career in ecosystem research as well as those aiming to contribute to evidence-based environmental policy.

Environmental sustainability can incorporate such diverse disciplines as biology and environmental science, mechanical and materials engineering, biosystems engineering, civil, structural and environmental engineering, geological sciences, agriculture and food science, computer science and informatics and mathematical sciences.

At UCD, a range of learning appetites are catered for, including for those wishing to combine continued employment with upskilling in the area, through a graduate cert, a graduate diploma and MSc in environmental sustainability, all offered online.

Full- and part-time master’s degrees are also offered in wildlife conservation and management, energy and environmental finance, rural environmental conservation and management, agri-environmental resource management, and world heritage conservation.

Emerging job trends

Diagnostics are at the centre of healthcare innovation today. They are involved in more than 60 per cent of clinical decision making in an industry that employs more than 3.5 million people worldwide.

Diagnostics are critical to personalised medicine – the process of targeting drugs to those for whom they will be most effective – and are at the centre of healthcare innovation today.

The MSc in biomedical diagnostics at DCU is a unique postgraduate training course, merging academic modules with industry insight and analysis. It is hosted by the biomedical diagnostics institute at DCU and was established to meet the future skills needs of the Irish medical devices and broader life science sectors.

DCU's school of biotechnology offers a one-year taught MSc in bioprocess engineering (in conjunction with Trinity and the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training). The course is heavily linked with the pharma industry and courses are taught by experts from companies such as Ipsen, MSD and Genzyme.

Many students undertake a five-month research project with these partner companies.

DCU’s school of computing offers a master’s in computing and students can choose to major in one of five areas: data analytics, cloud computing, software engineering, human language technology or security and forensic computing.

The majors are based on current trends in the sector. Data analytics is very popular at the moment and the major is closely tied to the high-profile insight centre which is leading the way with data analytics.

Digital marketing changes rapidly and is currently experiencing phenomenal growth.

The recently-introduced module in digital advertising and communications looks at developing students’ capacity to develop creative digital advertising campaigns and manage digital advertising operations.

DCU’s MSc in public relations has been developed in consultation with the public relations industry in Ireland and addresses recent developments and challenges for the profession including the growth of social media, the decline of traditional media, and the growing issues of corporate social responsibility influencing organisational reputation.

DCU’s new institute of education offers a range of teaching programmes specialising in special education, guidance counselling, religious education and chaplaincy studies.

Two interesting new programmes are the Master of Literacy which allows participants to design and develop reading and writing workshops for children, and the professional MA in healthcare chaplaincy programmes for those wishing to pursue chaplaincy careers in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.

Its range of doctorate education research programmes for experienced professionals who are emerging as Irish educational leaders, offers specialisation in areas including ethical education, educational leadership, and assessment, learning and teaching.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times