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Context - need to understand the 1-year taught MSc programmes offered by universities in the UK, in order to make a choice regarding higher studies (masters level) in Computer Science.

Specific confusion - Generally, an MS degree elsewhere will be of 2-years duration with enough time for lectures, electives and projects/thesis, thus equipping students for both jobs and research in the future. How does a 1-year taught MSc programme in the UK differ? Are they only for students who have no interest in research? Do they not cover the subjects in depth? (I am aware of the MRes programmes but they seemed apt for students who're 100% sure of pursuing a PhD.)

Basically, I am confused if pursuing a 1-year taught MSc programme in the UK will add no value at all. I mainly want to learn specific subjects in much more depth and want to keep open options for research roles / PhD in the future. Any guidance will be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  • What qualification do you already have? A BSc alone is sometimes sufficient to start a PhD in the UK. And have you checked the syllabuses of the MScs you're interested in? Many will include a dissertation/research project component. – astronat Sep 2 at 14:24
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    +1 I will up-vote any down vote when there's no justification in a comment and I see no basis for the down vote – user2768 Sep 2 at 14:43
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You will need to enquire specifically about the particular MSc. Because MScs are short, they tend to serve very particular purposes.

They might provide the opportunity for someone who did one subject, to gain enough knowledge in another subject to work or do research in that subject (e.g. someone with a Mathematics undergrad to do a computer science job).

They might provide specialist training in a very narrow part of a subject. E.g. we do a degree called Human Molecular Genetics, which is basically training to work in an NHS genetic diagnostic lab, or my friend runs an MSc in Mammalian Zooarchology, which will train people who did a general archology degree, and now want to either get a job as a animal bone specialist on a commercial archology unit, or do a PhD in Mammalian Zooarch.

Or they might be for people who's undergrad degree wasn't good enough. Say you only got a 2:2, or you went to a university that isn't very well regarded, but want to do a PhD... they give you a second chance. We offer one of these. The students combine taking a selection of our final year undergrad courses with special lab skills course, an extended literature review and a lab research project.

I should add that all our MScs provide an extended research project (3 months, full time in the lab), but I don't think that's the case for all MScs.

I always advise student thinking of doing an MSc in the UK to know exactly what it is they want out of it, and to know that the particular MSc they are thinking about will provide that.

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As other answers indicate, taught MSc courses seem highly variable. I did such a degree in Mathematics/Computer Science, a subsequent PhD, and am currently a research postdoc. So in the strictest sense, I can report that not all taught MSc courses are insufficient in this regard.

The course featured an approximately 3 month research thesis after a first 9 of intensive coursework. This supplied the most important element for academic preparation.

One other comment on "value" you might consider: I had few marks and no new recommenders from the MSc by the time applications for PhD programs the subsequent year were due. The MSc proved valuable in subsequent years after having sufficient time to get those in hand. At the time, I think it had little impact on which PhD programs accepted me.

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Suitability/format: At my UK institution, and I do believe this to be a country-wide standard, the taught MSc (just like the MSc by research) lasts for 1 full year - September to September, or 3 semesters. This is indeed 1 semester shorter than a typical MSc elsewhere in Europe, but not half as short. This is 2 semesters of courses + 1 semester for the thesis (at my institution, the "lit review" part of the thesis is done as part of a course in the 2nd semester, and 3rd semester is fully practical). The quality of the programme can have large variations depending on the University.

Value compared to other EU MSc programmes: On average, I would say the "depth" of the material is the same, or maybe just a tad lower, as the depth on an average EU University. But, this is just a hunch (based on a sample size in single digits). In the context of ambitions for an EU research career, my next and very strong hunch is that finishing a 1-year taught MSc in the UK would not put you in any disadvantage compared to finishing a MSc programme anywhere else.

Value on it's own/as regarded in the UK: The picture slightly changes when viewed in the context of UK Higher Education or if you, for any reason, target a career in the UK specifically. Some tidbits to consider:

  • When talking about Higher Education, most Brits will inquire "Do you have a degree?" referring to a BSc.

    A MSc here is not only quite expensive, but also considered to be for students who are passionate about subjects: often a personal development choice rather than a career move.

  • An increasing number of funded PhD positions in the UK are now part of large university-wide or cross-university doctoral programmes, which are integrated: (taught) MSc (1 year) + PhD (3 year) programme.

    In other words, if you are interested in pursuing a PhD programme in the UK, but first finish a MSc degree on your own expense/with funding for MSc only, there is a good chance you will be required to do a second MSc degree as part of your PhD. It will still, of course, help your application. The trend I have seen here is that most Brits will apply with a BSc (only requirement), while quite a number of overseas students will apply after their MSc (as is typical elsewhere).

  • For completeness: if you are interested in a (non-research) career in the UK, I have anecdotally observed a number of situations where an overseas degree is not very highly valued (especially outside of STEM) in industry. Finishing a (MSc, but really, any) programme at a British University could be a way to get an industry position in the UK.

  • Similarly to above, even before Brexit, finishing a degree in the UK (any, I think!) would substantially ease the immigration situation for international (non EU) applicants.

(I know nothing about the US to compare with value of programmes there.)

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Regardless of length, MSc programmes vary by institute and country. An MSc isn't necessary (nor sufficient) for entry onto a PhD programme, requirements vary between instituties and countries. Nonetheless, PhD students commonly hold an MSc (or equivalent).

Generally, the difference between a one- and two-year MSc is that the latter is twice as long. That doesn't imply you'll be taught twice as much, because institutes vary. Nor does it imply they'll be any emphasis on research, again institutes vary.

To determine whether an MSc (of any length) is useful for industrial- or academic-research positions, look at requirements for positions you are interested in.


It's worth noting that UK MSc and PhD programmes are shorter than those offered in many countries.

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    I don't think this answers the question. The question asks specifically about the 1-year MSc programmes in the UK. – GoodDeeds Sep 2 at 14:28
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    @GoodDeeds Every MSc programme differs, so there's no generic answer. Is there anything specifically missing? – user2768 Sep 2 at 14:29
  • Enrolling British PhD students in the UK do not commonly hold a MSc (or equivalent). – penelope Nov 4 at 13:55
  • @penelope Do you mean an MSc isn't necessary for a PhD in the UK? How common is having a PhD but no MSc (/MA, etc.) in the UK? – user2768 Nov 4 at 15:01
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    That's exactly what I mean. What I am observing during interviews/shortlisting (so, not official statistics) is that most British applicants will have only a BSc, and most EU/international applicants will have a MSc at time of applying to a PhD programme (see my answer). While I was a postdoc, our British colleagues pursuing their PhD did not start their PhD with a MSc degree. On the other hand, most PhD programmes are integrated, meaning that a MSc will be done as a part of the PhD programme (therefore, upon completion, a person would have both). – penelope Nov 4 at 16:15

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