8. Further issues in degree programme provision
There are a number of additional possibilities in further exploiting the strengths of this framework. For example, you could to open up the degree programme, particularly through an international degree stream, to facilitate the autumn semester spent in the home department, with the spring semester spent aboard at a leading specialist department for the degree undertaken. To prospective students, this potentially increases the attractiveness of the programme, particularly if they are from outside Europe. However, it raises logistical and uncertainty issues surrounding visas, requiring students to apply for a further visa if they wished to study elsewhere in Europe.
Additional logistical issues are involved in establishing partnerships and evaluating the modules that they would provide. As the host institution abroad is likely to receive only a limited number of students, it would be unlikely to possess the scope to provide tailored courses which meet the exact specification offered within the home institution. Thus careful consideration is needed to ensure that partner institutions can offer the control over which modules are available to ensure students meet the key requirements for their degree as mandated under the set benchmarks with which the degree stream is evaluated. Therefore, a period of searching, evaluation and negotiation is likely to be required until suitable partners are identified which would allow the semester abroad modules to be counted towards the overall degree classification. Further, there are issues over the pre-requisites required by the host institution, again as they are unlikely to follow precisely the same structure as the home institution’s autumn semester.
Furthermore, it is also important in this process to remember the individual student’s welfare. Students must understand that this is an exciting opportunity to study in a different institution and if they fail to make satisfactory progress with their studies while away, they will lack the necessary skills to undertake successfully the independent research project (dissertation) and consequently find it difficult to pass their postgraduate degree. Moreover, while there is an exciting opportunity in the collaboration of the provision of a postgraduate degree, there needs to be strong relations with the partner institution to ensure students’ academic and personal welfare.
Occasionally, students who lack the necessary skills from their first degree are not able to obtain a place on an economics master’s degree programme. These students would then either look to undertake an undergraduate degree in economics or, more likely, apply to another broader subject in the field of business or management. They are frequently lost even though they possess an interest in studying economics. However, this presents an opportunity to open the postgraduate degree to a new audience through the provision of an alternative pathway – the pre-Master’s diploma. Typically these programmes require students who do not possess the necessary skills in economics, but who have a second-class honours degree in an alternative field, to take the core immediate levels of economics in Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Statistics and Econometrics. This enables them to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for quantitative methods, economics, business and financial analysis that would be required to apply for many PGT-level degree programmes in economics.
Due to the core components forming the basis of immediate and some advanced levels of knowledge offered by undergraduate programmes, there are strong synergies between the two, even to the extent of allowing these students to attend some of the same lectures as undergraduate students, although more support would be needed through the use of more timetabled seminars/tutorials than the average undergraduate student might be expected to attend. Alternatively, they can be taught through the dedicated provision of modules designed especially for these students’ needs, although much of the material will be the same as for undergraduates, again generating economies of scale from significant savings in the need to develop teaching materials and associated knowledge of faculty members. Moreover, such pre-Master’s programmes have the added benefit of potentially attracting a significant number of overseas students who already hold some form of economics training from universities courses offered in their home country.
Furthermore, the provision of the pre-Master’s diploma opens up the natural next step of offering a two-years Master’s programme, where the first year is spent pursuing the pre-Master’s programme with the second year following the Master’s programme. Consequently, there is minimum effort involved in setting up this arrangement and it will provide students for both programmes. This pathway could be particularly important if you wish to attract foreign non-EU nationals to your pre-Master’s programme since they can apply for a two-year visa and would not necessarily wish to have to change institution once they have settled into their environment – as demonstrated through the student focus groups/survey previously discussed.
Following on from this, it may be wise to offer pre-sessional activities for a variety of reasons to boost students’ confidence in their skills prior to them starting. First, foreign nationals may have the qualifications and English language requirements with their undergraduate degree and IELTS through English as a foreign language course, but lack the skills required to be taught in a native English speaking department. Secondly, varying levels of academic writing skills exist even amongst the best students, so for some, this pre-sessional course will allow them to tackle the Master’s programme in the knowledge that they have had the chance to practise and hone these skills. Thirdly, a typical requirement for economics Master’s students is a background in econometrics; but not all economics degree programmes, especially joint programmes, offered within business schools teach these essential econometrics models. However, their knowledge of the rest of the economics pre-requisites to follow an economics PGT may be there bar this vital introduction to econometrics; hence, an intensive session prior to the autumn semester will be necessary for these students. Similarly in relation to mathematical ability, since they will be severely hindered in other modules if they lack these skills. Finally, there are some students who either lack confidence in their ability or have not studied economics for a few years, but have the background and would benefit from a pre-sessional refresher to sharpen their skills.
Consequently, given the above potential scenarios, there could be a number of pre-sessional courses available to students depending on the students’ needs which would substantially improve both the student experience and the department’s reputation. This is in contrast to the norm in many institutions which is to produce a fairly broad reading list and then expect their incoming students to be up-to-date on the material without offering them any form of assistance. Hence, it should be emphasised to potential PGT students that the principal aim through offering these sessions is to provide them with the best chance of succeeding in their PGT programme without being held back due to a lack in some prior knowledge which could be tackled in a fairly short period of time rather than have them playing catch-up for the entire period of their studies and thus experiencing a negative effect on their performance. Moreover, these courses need not be taught by in-house academic staff, but could make use of the PhD cohort who wish to pursue an academic career after they have received their doctorate, although overseen by an experienced academic. This again encourages PhD students to your institution since they will have the knowledge that they could get some hands-on teaching experience giving them a head-start later on, whereas other institutions they are looking at may not offer these opportunities. Or, there could be the opportunity to collaborate on a regional basis to make full use of the economies of scale from providing these courses on a cross-institutional basis for the September intake.