Postgraduate Study – What Are the Benefits?

The answer seems to be “precious few” according to work recently undertaken by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) Postgraduate Students Task Group, as reported recently in AGCAS’ Phoenix magazine (October edition).

In a depressed labour market, many graduates hope they may increase their chances of landing a good job by obtaining a postgraduate qualification but the work of the Task Group suggests that many of the benefits they are anticipating can often prove illusory. Their investigations suggest that:

  • Only a few employers have recruitment programmes that specifically target postgraduates
  • There is not much evidence that acquiring a postgraduate qualification leads to higher salary offers
  • With the exception of problem-solving skills, employers do not believe that postgraduates offer a better set of skills or progress faster than graduates in their first job
  • A postgraduate degree seldom compensates for failing to achieve a 2.1
Overall the message is that a postgraduate qualification brings few benefits in its own right unless also accompanied by significant professional work experience.
So what price “Education, Education, Education”?
It’s interesting to speculate what sort of postgraduates the Task Group, whose work is acknowledged to be anecdotal rather than scientific, had in mind in coming to their conclusions. Many University of Cumbria students pursue careers in Teaching, Social Work, Psychology, Nursing and the Health Professions where it is required or at least very desirable to take a postgraduate qualification, albeit alongside extending their experience in the workplace. There are also many career areas where a Masters qualification is needed if you do not hold a degree in that particular subject.
Could it be that the Task Group were perhaps thinking more of postgraduates pursuing non-vocational or obscure subjects, and then trying to break into the ‘blue chip’ graduate trainee market?  Quotes from Ernst & Young, PwC (Price Waterhouse Cooper to the rest of us) and RAND Europe indicate that may be the case.
Research Your Course
So where does this leave the would-be applicant?
As so often with careers, it is a “horses for courses” type of situation.  There are a great many postgraduate courses – some that offer no vocational benefits at all and do not even pretend to do so, a few that are effectively essential career stepping stones, and others that come some way between.  The onus is on you to quiz postgraduate course providers about the career outcomes of previous students if you are definitely hoping to choose a course that will advance your own career.