Most postgraduates in the UK are studying for Masters qualifications lasting one or two years. These courses serve a range of needs from vocational training to a preparation for further research. One characteristic common to all is the opportunity to work in small groups and contribute to an exciting mix of ideas and experience.
Teaching and learning on taught courses may be in the form of essays, project work, industrial or business placements, problem classes, lectures, tutorials or discussion groups. They may also include a project or research dissertation which you work on individually or as part of a group.
It is important that you check the content of courses and are sure that they are suitable for you. Courses with the same title may be very different in their aims and methods and different institutions have different strengths.
British Universities have a long and respected tradition for research. Many Masters courses contain a research element and some are dedicated to research with little or no formal teaching. The most advanced form of postgraduate research is doctoral work which is intensive and needs strong commitment in terms of time, dedication and finance. Full time study at this level will take at least three years.
Whatever course you choose research in the UK is characterised by close contact with academic staff and personal research supervision either working with one or two academics or part of a research team. If you are considering doing a doctorate in the UK you must make sure you are very clear about your reasons and motivations. The work is intense and demands a high degree of independence of both thought and working patterns. Choosing your supervisorís for doctoral level work is very important. You will have a close working relationship with these people for several years so be sure to make sure the people you choose will be best suited to your needs.
In recent years much more emphasis has been placed upon gaining a broad range of skills appropriate not just to your specific research project but to the your subject area generally. Do take advantage of these opportunities as they will put you in a stronger position when it comes to seeking employment whether within academia or in other careers.
Whatever your course you will have the opportunity as a postgraduate to develop your skills both formally and informally. All institutions offer a range of supplementary courses in addition to the training and teaching you will receive as part of your study.
What is often not recognised are the skills you will develop informally through studying in another country at postgraduate level. Postgraduate study will enable you to develop your personal skills in areas such as presentation, report writing, organising work effectively, managing others and communicating ideas clearly. Also the experience of simply studying in another country and being part of a different culture is something that cannot be learned elsewhere.
Working while studying
The UK Government has recently made it easier for international students to work while studying. The most obvious way of earning extra income while studying is doing teaching work. With the rapid expansion of higher education in the UK over the last decade there are many more opportunities for teaching at all levels from demonstrating and laboratory work to tutorials, seminars and sometimes lecturing.
There may be limitations on what teaching work you can do as Masters student and more opportunity exists for those doing doctoral research. Remember, though, that teaching can be time consuming so be sure to balance the attractions of teaching work with the needs of your course or research. You should expect training and support to be provided from your department or institution to help you teach.
It is important to remember that when you are studying your academic work is only part of your life. All institutions in the UK have an organisation run by students and usually known as the studentsí union or association. They are a focus for student life and provide social and sporting facilities as well as acting as the voice of students at the institution. Most institutions have a postgraduate society and a wide range of other clubs and societies.
The first places you should go for information and support are your institution and its studentsí union. There are also several national organisations for students in the UK.
The national body for postgraduates in the UK is the National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) which is an independent organisation offering support, advice and guidance to student unions, institutions and individuals. The National Union of Students (NUS) is the largest student organisation in the UK but does tend to focus more on the needs of undergraduates.
Be part of it!
There is unprecedented interest in higher education at the moment and a real commitment to widening opportunity and expanding the role that higher education plays in society and the world. Postgraduate study and research can serve different needs from career training to the development of original and exciting ideas through research and collaborative work. This is an exciting time to be part of a learning revolution that can benefit you as an individual and society as a whole. The UK has a deserved reputation as one of the best places to do postgraduate work in the world. If you are clear about your reasons for study and make the most of the opportunities available you will have a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Be part of the learning revolution and come and study in the UK. Itís an experience you will never forget.