Traditional postgraduate masters degrees require a significant investment in time as well as money, but there is an alternative route to reach the same destination by completing modular masters courses.

Postgraduate masters courses are typically offered over one year full-time or two years part-time. Universities offering these qualifications will usually award a full 180 credit masters degree. Credits are awarded on completion of course modules which include a mixture of assignments, exams and a dissertation.

Universities also offer qualifications that are taught at the same academic level that comprise of fewer modules. These are typically 60 credit or 120 credit courses and they are often delivered over a shorter period, typically 15 weeks to 30 weeks.

Academic standards

The qualifications earned are just as academically demanding as a full masters. The awards achieved are called Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip). Many students take these masters qualifications in order to spread out their study to fit around lifestyle or workplace requirements. They are also very valuable if the student intends to accumulate study credits as they progress in their career.

Universities recognise the accumulation of credits to be awarded a full masters course. If a student reaches a career crossroads and wants a new direction, then modular masters courses can make a difference.

Typical entry requirements include the following details

Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip)

  • You can commit to 30 weeks of full-time study or 17 months part-time study
  • are looking for career advancement.
  • want to pursue a more affordable postgraduate course.
  • to study the same taught content as a masters degree without completing a dissertation or major final project.

Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert)

  • You want to complete your qualification quickly (15 weeks of full-time study or up to a year part-time).
  • Are looking for career advancement in a specific field.
  • want to pursue a more affordable postgraduate course.
  • looking to become a higher education teacher*.

*The Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE) takes 30 weeks. This part-time course provides graduates with an internationally recognised teaching qualification.

Experience gained in the workplace

Employees in most service sector jobs have had the benefit of higher education. Around 42% of the UK workforce (14m) has completed a degree. Universities recognise the contribution that experience makes to the knowledge and expertise of the whole workforce. A lack of an undergraduate degree is not a barrier to admission and completion of a modular masters course.

Flexible qualifications – attendance in person or online through virtual learning

The global situation has led many people to think about studying for additional qualifications. While we might grumble about trying to live and work remotely the benefit of using online video services such as Zoom, Skype and Teams has meant that the idea of home-based remote study is no longer alien.

The first wave brought most universities to a standstill back in March last year and teaching had to switch to virtual methods. The outcome of this change is introducing a variety of new subjects and reaching more prospective students using courses that are designed to be taught in this way. This applies particularly to modular masters courses.

Some Universities are adopting modular online teaching to provide pre-masters programmes. International students are taking advantage of additional English tuition before they embark on a full masters course on a UK campus. The need to study from their home country rather than in person these sessions have become a standard component of the learning experience.

Modular masters course subjects

Subjects offered in modular form are included in the portfolio of British universities, including the Russell Group. Healthcare and Medicine courses are available as PGDip and PGCert and as individual Short Courses.

UK Universities have been able to offer students flexible teaching of individual modules. In more normal times these would comprise of an intensive one-week full time session on campus where the flexible group would learn alongside the current masters cohort, with the remainder of the course delivered by remote online study. With the current restrictions on campus attendance this model has reverted to a fully online structure.

Is a modular masters course right for me?

Modular masters courses such at the PGDip and PGCert have been integral parts of the university postgraduate curriculum for many years. Courses listed on Masters Compare include the option to take a 60 credit or 120 credit qualification if that is validated.

Fees are usually priced as a proportion of the normal masters degree, which means they are affordable for students seeking to build up their qualifications over time. New short courses that are accepted pathways to a postgraduate qualification are becoming more popular. These provide an excellent route for students to experience study within a university environment and they contribute to the accumulation of study credits.

Modular masters are a valuable option for all students seeking to achieve the recognition of their abilities through learning.