Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

What is a Masters? Developing policy, practice and research in Australia for postgraduate coursework quality and the professions (#139)

Nicola Parker 1
  1. Institute for Interactive Media and Learning, University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, NSW, Australia

Developing high quality Masters degrees is vital for ensuring postgraduates are able to drive innovation and the professions on the global stage. Despite sustained growth in Masters’ coursework student numbers (DEEWR 2011) and the value of these courses for universities and national prosperity (Edwards in ACER 2011; Higher Education Commission 2012), there has been comparatively little research, policy development and examination of practice (Hamilton et. al. 2014).

This roundtable will focus on: ‘What does ‘Mastersness’ (SCEEC 2013) mean in an Australian context?’ and consider the nature and value of the Masters degree for students, universities and employers; as well as transitions (Ashford & Smith 2013) and success. Key considerations include: the nature of ‘Mastersness’ and its seven ‘facets’ (SCEEC 2013), which could potentially form a framework for postgraduate teaching and learning quality; alongside Reid and colleagues’ (2003) best practice principles for postgraduate coursework. Assessment is central to postgraduates’ learning (Parker 2013) and how best to assess Masters level outcomes is an important area for development in diverse professional courses. Debate also surrounds research requirements for Masters graduates and TEQSA (2014) reiterated the need for ”knowledge of research principles and methods, and…some independent research”, in addition to project work or practice-related learning. Extensive work on undergraduate research (Brew 2001; Healey & Jenkins 2009) and particularly the Research Skill Development Framework (Willison 2012) could frame development of this aspect of ‘Mastersness’, along with Parker’s (2012) six qualitatively different ways that postgraduates experience research for assessment.

Discussion questions for this session include:

1. What does ‘Mastersness’ mean in Australia?

2. What does it mean to be a Master’s- level student? How are they supported in that transition and moving into professions?

3. How are Masters level outcomes assessed?

4. What is the best approach to embedding explicit independent research outcomes for coursework Masters (beyond projects and practice)?

This roundtable addresses the conference theme of: Educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals. We will debate the capabilities required of Masters coursework students and the skills and dispositions they will require as future professionals; including the requirements for independent research. We will also consider how frameworks developed particularly for Masters courses can help us to know what these capabilities are. The most appropriate pedagogies, curriculum and assessment for this important group of students will be discussed not just in terms of during their course but also how they are supported in making the transition to study and moving into professions?