People always consider universities like Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College etc. among the best universities on the planet, with centuries of experience in research methodology. One would assert that their policies to conduct 1-year master programs (versus their 2-year counterparts at rest of the world, specially north america) sounds a little odd and vague.

This article has tried to address some Pros and Cons. Seemingly, "Shortness" of the program might not be a true advantage, where the depth of the education might be endangered. Moreover, the students might not be, deservedly, flourished by the target program, because it will be supposed to be finished, when the students have just focused on the case, primarily, without acquisition of the all of the desired educational and research profundity. On the other hand, the investment does not sound to be a considerable factor to justify this policy, because most of the students (and their parents) realize that paying for graduate studies will construct their future and the investment on this case will, fairly, be compensated with the upcoming achievements, such as successful recruitment and so on.

So, I, personally, can not understand the real underlying logic behind taking such decision into account by UK universities. It is undeniable that a multitude of international students would not discern these short programs as efficient steps to build a robust future for them in either further academic progressions or professional job sector.

Why don't UK universities manage their master programs in 2-year periods, instead of current short 1-year ones?

What motivations could convince a typical international student to prefer a 1-year master program at UK to a 2-year one at north america?

PS. There is a, typically, similar question within the community, has which not asserted on the intrinsic facts, under the aegis of this policy. It's content, globally, demonstrates more reasons to revoke the credibility of the case.

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    one year program might be cheaper?
    – prusswan
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:29
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    I don't think that master's programs at these universities are universally 1 year: after a casual check at the Oxford website I already found a few that were longer. I can't speak for the UK, but in the Netherlands there are also 1- and 2 year programs, the difference being that generally the 2-year programs typically include a large research component (e.g., writing a master's thesis), while the 1-year programs are more geared towards a professional career outside of academia. I imagine in the UK there are similar differences. Jul 5, 2016 at 19:34
  • @prusswan: Half graduation time often lead to the fact that overall cost of 1-year studies is less than 2-year one.
    – user41207
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:58
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    I think your question may be putting the cart before the horse. The Cambridge 1-year component of the MMath, a.k.a. Part III of the Mathematical Tripos, was around long before Cambridge thought of trying to bring its qualifications into line with North America and other places. Whether it is better, worse or equivalent is to some extent immaterial: there was a pre-existing system, and it is easier to stick a new label on it than to redesign from scratch
    – Yemon Choi
    Jul 5, 2016 at 23:08
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    It is also the case that UK undergraduate degrees specialise earlier than North American ones, and so it is sometimes argued (I am not saying this is correct!) that 1 year's worth of "Master's level" teaching is enough to bring a student up to the level of PhD entry standard. Since you don't give links in your first paragraph, I can't tell which programmes at which universities you are referring to
    – Yemon Choi
    Jul 5, 2016 at 23:11

3 Answers 3


The article you link to lists 3 cons to a 1 year program: not enough time to take electives, not enough time for a work placement, and not enough time to get good letters of recommendation. It also lists duration, and the decreased costs, as the major benefit. The cons, however, are not particularly important in the UK (and many parts of the world) while the pro is important worldwide.


The UK educational, and employment, system does value electives. Students start specializing at age 16 when they take their A levels. Undergraduate programs typically have no "general education" type requirements. Many MSc programs are so specialized that there are not enough electives offered to fill a second year.

Work Placement:

In the UK, work placement opportunities are not limited to students. In fact, in my field, work placements are only available to graduates and students cannot do a work placement.


Letters of recommendation are just not that important in the UK. For example, for permanent academic positions, letters of reference are not part of the decision process until the very end. Many jobs do not require any references at all.


For self-funded programs, a 1 year program saves you money. Even with funding, there are still opportunity costs associated with the 2nd year.

To get to your questions:

Why don't UK universities manage their master programs in 2-year periods, instead of current short 1-year ones?

In general, as with most things, finances rule the day. While 2-year programs would theoretically bring in more money to a school, the fear is that a 2-year program would not meet the needs of UK students and student numbers would drop. This would result in decreased revenue for the school/department.

What motivations could convince a typical international student to prefer a 1-year master program at UK to a 2-year one at north america?

My UK school pitched our MSc program to US students as: if you know what you want to study, why waste money and time studying other things

  • So, in your view, master studies in 1Y programs of UK are such considerably-more-specialized than typical 2Y ones that the half time of studying will not overshadow the quality. It could sound reasonable, but a professor of engineering from UC Berkely did, recently, underestimate the 1Y M.Phil in Engineering program at Cambridge, because of its lack of depth in order to provide "SPECIALIZATION" (the factor that you, clearly, asserts upon its existence in 1Y programs of UK universities). Can we conclude that his opinion was, fairly, dogmatic?!
    – user41207
    Jul 5, 2016 at 20:26
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    @Roboticist I have no idea what lack of depth in order to provide "SPECIALIZATION" means. What I do know is that most UK masters are taught programs, but that the one you are referring to is a research only program.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 5, 2016 at 20:48
  • @Roboticist What exactly do you mean by "depth" that isn't a synonym for "specialisation"? Jul 7, 2021 at 16:58
  • Your paragraph about letters of recommendation doesn’t match my experience at all, after 23 years at all levels of academia in the UK and abroad. Letters of recommendation played a central role in every hiring and PhD admission process in the UK that I have been involved in.
    – HJRW
    Jul 18, 2021 at 6:38

At least when I was living in the UK, full time courses really were full time. I took 2.5 years to complete my M.Sc., because I was working and taking classes in the evenings. During those 2.5 years I had very little free time - work, studies, sleeping, and basic self-maintenance took 24 hours a day.

The same program was also available as a one year full time course, but it would have been extremely difficult to work much while doing it that way.

  • So, a 1Y program in a world-known university like Cambridge would cover all materials of a typical 2Y program (and students of that high-class university are supposed to handle this high level of work load)?... In this case, no shortcoming could consider for the program in view of the time of studies.
    – user41207
    Jul 5, 2016 at 21:53
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    @Roboticist, no. The first year of a U.S. masters would have been covered in the third year of a Cambridge B.A., so a one-year M.Phil. would only have to cover the second year of the U.S. course. Jun 24, 2019 at 21:58

In UK the Masters are one year, however we also have to see that in other parts of the world there is no Class 13 or Year 13, here we study a year more even before getting into a graduate programme.

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