Student numbers have seen a massive expansion over the last ten years, most significantly in those undertaking postgraduate taught courses and research in computing.
There are various types of postgraduate degrees and diplomas in computing. First, taught courses can be distinguished from degrees by research, although many research degrees have a taught component. Second, specialist (or advanced) taught courses can be distinguished from conversion taught courses.
Taught courses are offered as Postgraduate Diplomas or Master’s programmes. A Postgraduate Diploma is frequently offered as a subset of an MSc, and equates to the taught element without the thesis necessary for the master’s qualification. Thus a Postgraduate Diploma might be seen as a stepping stone towards an MSc, a fallback position for someone who is unable to complete the MSc, or as a qualification in its own right.
An MSc in computing would involve, in addition to the taught programme, a project leading to the writing of a dissertation, involving 400-500 hours of effort, and tackling a reasonably complex problem.
Conversion Master’s courses were developed in response to the shortage of workers skilled in information systems. Graduates of disciplines other than computing learn via a programme delivered over one calendar year, and by the end of the course, they should be performing at the level of an honours graduate in computing, though over a narrower range of material.
The subject coverage of conversion courses is necessarily broad, and you will find variation in the focus of particular courses. There are some which are mainly concerned with software engineering, others with systems analysis and design, others with artificial intelligence, others with the hardware side of information systems, and many more besides.
You need to look carefully at the particular courses to be sure it matches you needs and interests.
Specialist Or Advanced Programmes
The entry qualification for a specialist or advanced Master’s course is a good honours degree in computing or closely related discipline. Such taught courses are designed to build on the first degree by taking the student to greater depth in a narrower area of the discipline.
Courses might focus, for example, on Human-Computer interaction, Robotics, or Distribution Systems. The expectation is that the student will already have studied at honours level in the area that is to be pursued in greater depth.
Also, continuing professional development means that increasing use is being made of postgraduate courses/units for professional updating as part of Continuing Professional Development schemes, for those in the industry who need regular skill updating. Postgraduate courses are therefore a good way of meeting the requirement.
Professional Accreditation Of Taught Courses
The British Computer Society maintains a list of approved postgraduate programmes. Appropriate conversion courses are approved for exemption from part l of the Society’s examinations. This provides a route to a full membership, after suitable experience and training, for honours graduates of disciplines other than computing.
In order to receive approval, courses will be examined to ensure that they offer sufficient breadth of study, significant practical work, treatment of professional issues, emphasis on engineering principles and especially design.
Specialists or advanced courses are usually approved for exemption from part ll of the Society’s examinations. Unusually this is not particularly relevant to the graduates because in most cases they will already be exempted from parts l and ll on entry by virtue of their first degree in computing.
However, it can be useful for those who enter with a Part l exempting qualification.
The main degrees by research are MPhil and DPhil or PhD, though some institutions offer a research MSc. Applicants need to have a first degree in computing or a closely related discipline, as there are not many funded research student ships available, so competition if fierce.
Most candidates register first for an MPhil, and transfer after about two years to a PhD if the research looks as though it will reach a sufficiently innovative level. The expected period for a PhD is three years full time; usually this period is extended by the writing of the dissertation.
Research students, for whom the research for the degree is the main focus of activity, are funded by a grant (often called a bursary), whereas research assistants, who are assisting in research on a particular project, are paid a salary.
In either case, the researcher will have a director of studies and one or more supervisors who will help to provide guidance and direction for the research. Obviously the research has to be largely self-propelled, exploring ideas of the student’s own. Increasingly, universities are expected to provide some training in research for students and assistants.
Research in computing is very wide-ranging because of the continually expanding areas of application for computers. Those interested should talk to staff at the university during their first degre