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Postgraduate degrees explained

Richard McKeon

Head of Product @ Prosple
Don't know the difference between a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma? Read this article to know your PhDs from your MPhils!

Don’t know a Graduate Certificate from a Graduate Diploma? Understanding what types of postgraduate degrees are available will help you find the one that is right for you.

Postgraduate degrees come in many different shapes and forms, depending on the purpose of the degree. Programs can be broadly divided into two categories, coursework degrees and research degrees.

Coursework programs share a lot of similarities with undergraduate studies, being structured around the completion of a number of core and elective units. Unlike undergraduate courses, however, postgraduate coursework programs are generally delivered through seminars, which are a lecture-tutorial hybrid, where the instructor presents for some parts and students are required to make substantial contributions.

Research programs, on the other hand, are designed to allow students to research a particular topic in great detail, usually with a focus on publishing several research papers and a final thesis.

We’ve elaborate briefly on the most common postgraduate degree types below, categorised as either coursework or research.

Coursework programs

Graduate Certificates and Diplomas are typically last 6 and 12 months respectively and are designed to enhance the professional skills and knowledge studied during an undergraduate degree, or serve as an introduction to a new subject area. These are Level 8 degrees on the The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).

Coursework Master’s are the next rung on the ladder, intended to provide mastery in a particular field of study. Although the focus of the program is coursework, they will almost always include some kind of research project, often as a pathway into research and academia. Programs typically run for one to two years and are well respected in foreign employment markets. These are AQF Level 9 qualifications.

Professional Doctorates are categorised as a coursework qualification, but will also involve some research. Graduates of these programs are still afforded the title of Doctor (let’s face it, this is an important consideration!) and is an AQF Level 10 qualification. These degrees are generally for those who want to pursue the highest level of accredited study, while still focussing on a professional (non-academic) career.

Update 8/10/2021. We have been informed indirectly that the AQF will no longer allow for coursework AQF 10 degrees. We're waiting for the Australian Department of Education to confirm this on their site.

Research programs

Research Master’s, sometimes known as a Master of Philosophy (MPhil), are AQF level 9 degrees which have some coursework units, but culminate in the completion of a research thesis. These degrees look and feel a lot like a PhD, with many offering an option to convert the degree to a PhD halfway through.

Research Doctorates (PhDs) are the Everest of postgraduate studies, taking a minimum of three years to complete, but sometimes as many as six. The program is usually for students wanting to pursue a career in research and academia and requires original research, publishing several peer-reviewed papers and a 70,000 word final thesis!