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What’s the Difference Between Postgraduate Study in the UK Compared to Other Countries?

So, you’ve decided to pursue a master’s degree. Whether you want to further your knowledge or open doors in your career, postgraduate study is an excellent opportunity.

There’s just one big question: where should you study?

With phenomenal universities dotted around the world, choosing which programme is right for you is difficult. You may already have considered one country in depth. But master’s programmes differ substantially between countries. And there’s also job opportunities, cost of living, health care, and more to consider.

To help, we’ve compiled this handy guide comparing postgraduate study in the UK and worldwide. We’ll list the important differences between postgraduate study in the UK, US, Australia, and Canada, as well as some information about smaller English-speaking countries, like Ireland and New Zealand.

Table of Contents

Duration of programme

Master’s degrees differ widely between countries. However, a master’s tends to be a shorter degree throughout the world than undergraduate study.

How long you want to spend will depend on your social, financial, and educational restrictions and goals. 

A master’s degree takes between one to two years full-time or two to four years part-time in the UK. Here, programmes are distinguished between taught degrees – which take a single calendar year – and research degrees, like an MPhil, which last two calendar years. 

There is also an integrated master’s degree, which is always taught, combining a bachelor’s degree with an extra year of study. 

Both Canada and the US have two-year master’s programs of full-time study. Some institutions may award a master’s degree as an interim qualification to students who immediately begin their doctorate after their Bachelor’s degree.

Australia has a more unusual system. There, master’s degrees are most often one year following an Australian honours degree (or equivalent). Suppose you choose to do the degree from an ordinary Bachelor’s. In that case, six months are added on, with a further six months added if your Bachelor’s was in an unrelated field. There’s also a four-year extended master’s degree. 

Ireland typically mirrors the UK system – one year for full-time study; two years for research-focused programmes. Meanwhile, New Zealand provides two-year degrees, where the first year is taught by coursework, and the second is research-based. 

Country

 

Australia

1 year (or 4 years for extended master’s)

Canada

2 years (full-time)

Ireland

1 year (taught) / 2 years (research)

New Zealand

2 years

United Kingdom

1 year (taught) / 2 years (research)

United States

2 years (full-time)

Types of programmes

Unlike Bachelor’s degrees, which typically come in BSc and BA, there are numerous types of master’s degrees.

Most broadly, master’s degrees are separated into three categories:

  • Postgraduate/graduate master’s degrees (MA, MPhil, MSc, MBA, LLM, MAsc, etc.): the traditional form of master’s degree, following an undergraduate degree
  • Integrated master’s degrees (MChem, Meng, MMath, MPharm, MPhys, MPsych, MSci, etc.): a UK-specific degree which combines an undergraduate bachelor’s degree with a further year of master’s level study.
  • Non-master’s level master’s degrees: Specific to the British Isles, ancient British and Irish universities can award an MA without examination to those who pass their undergraduate studies. Each examples rules differ according to the traditions of the institution.

The UK Quality Assurance Agency further differentiates master’s degrees into three types:

  • Research master’s degrees emphasise research methods, though they often include taught components.
  • Advanced study master’s degrees are primarily taught; though, in contrast to Bachelor’s, approximately a third of the course is focused on a research project, like a dissertation. Integrated master’s degrees fall into this category.
  • Professional master’s degrees are devoted to one particular career. It likely includes work placements and study projects to prepare students for the professional environment. Examples include Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Master of Laws (LLM). In the US, these are often known as professional degrees.

Few other English-speaking countries have such a complex system of postgraduate qualifications. The US Department of Education recognises only research and professional master’s degrees. Meanwhile, the Australian Qualifications Framework includes research, coursework, or extended types – with the latter being a four-year course. 

In Canada, master’s degrees (more commonly known as ‘grad’ programmes or ‘grad school’) are similar to the UK. You’ll find some type of MA or MSc. But there are also specialist master’s like Master of Fine Arts (MFA) or Master of Business Administration (MBA). 

New Zealand is substantially more flexible. There, courses are designed around life goals. There are four types:

  • Traditional master’s programmes
  • Change of direction programmes allow you to switch career or academic discipline
  • Graduate entry professional programmes teach students advanced vocational skills, e.g., teaching
  • Professional development programmes are tailored to candidates with relevant work experience, hoping to advance their careers.

Before applying, you’ll need to decide what types suit you? It all depends on where you are in life and what you want to do.

If you need a master’s degree to further your career, spending years on a research master’s probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, recent graduates may wish to pursue the subject they love, expanding their opportunities.

It’s up to you!

Cost comparison

Studying for a master’s degree seldom comes cheap. But it is an investment in your future – which can lead to greater salaries and new opportunities further down the road. Nevertheless, exceedingly high master’s costs could put you off studying in one country or make another more attractive.

Generally, postgraduate tuition fees are set by the university, not the government, across all English-speaking countries. Therefore, costs can differ widely and depend on the course in question. Master’s in the Arts and Humanities tend to be cheaper than Science-based programmes – subjects like Medicine and Veterinary Science could be even higher.

Here are the average course costs for overseas or international students:

Australia: $22,000 to 50,000 per year (USD $16,530 – 37, 575)

Canada: CAD $14,750 to 27,300 per year (USD $11,930 – 22,075)

Ireland:

  • EU and EEA students: €4,400 to 10,000 per year (USD $4,945 – 11,240).
  • Outside the EU and EEA students: €9,950 to 34,500 per year (USD $11,184 – 38,780)

New Zealand: NZD $26,000 to 37,000 per year (USD $18,670 – 26,570)

United States: USD $20,000 to 35,000 per year 

Given its more complex master’s system, the UK master’s degree fees are also varied. On average, you will spend:

Type

UK student fee

International fee

Classroom (e.g., MA)

£7,740

£17,109 (USD $22,650)

Laboratory (e.g., MSc)

£10,306

£20,167 (USD $26,700)

Research (MRes or MPhil)

£4,000+

£10,000+ (USD $13,240)

Business (MBA)

£19,722

£21,435 (USD $28,380) 

As you can see, master’s degrees are broadly equivalent in price. Some systems like Australia and the US have substantially higher upper bounds for costs. But there can be funding opportunities available for international students.

For example, Canada provides scholarships created by individual universities to attract talented overseas students to their courses. Similar schemes are likely available throughout the listed countries, depending on the course.

In the UK, certain international students will even be eligible for the student loans provided by the UK government, in addition to any scholarships. If you’re from a Commonwealth nation, there are Commonwealth Shared Scholarships that provide funding to graduates with either:

  • An undergraduate degree equivalent to a 2.1 (‘upper second-class honours’)
  • An undergraduate degree equivalent to a 2.2 (‘lower second-class honours’) plus a Masters-level qualification.

Such funding avenues are worth exploring. They can turn a seemingly unaffordable course into a genuine possibility. And many of the scholarships and funding schemes provide money beyond just the tuition fees, helping to cover your other expenses too.

Post-study job opportunities

Education is worthy in and of itself. But it’s also a gateway to new careers and jobs after studying. Moving away to learn isn’t just about the degree for many overseas students. It’s about starting a new life in a new country.

That means you’ll want to apply to countries with a booming jobs market. A country where your skills will be in high demand. Naturally, your area of expertise will shape your decision.

But here are some facts to keep in mind:

Australia is home to 48 of the world’s top 50 most innovative companies. Little wonder then, international students represented an average of 26.7 per cent of the student population, with 97 per cent living in the major cities. Indeed, in 2018, a staggering 50,000 international graduates remained in Australia after graduating.  

Canada is such an amazing country that over half of international students wish to stay after graduation. The Canadian economy is amongst the most advanced globally, covering almost all industries. It also boasts 13 companies in the Fortune Global 500, with many more US companies also opening offices in Canada. Still, it can be tough for international students to break into their industries.

The United Kingdom is amongst the most welcoming countries in the world to international students wanting to work. After Summer 2021, postgraduate students can stay and work for up to two years in the country. Before the pandemic, the UK hosted almost half a million international students. It’s never been easier to get a job and start a life in the UK after your master’s degree. 

The United States has one of the most thriving jobs markets globally. With industries at the forefront of technology and innovation, you simply won’t find the sheer volume of opportunities anywhere else. It’s also an incredibly immigration-friendly country, particularly for graduates. Every year the US welcomes around 1 million international students. In STEM fields, in particular, foreign students are increasingly likely to receive approval to stay and work in the country. 

Both Ireland and New Zealand are much smaller countries than their counterparts. Ireland doesn’t have a large immigrant community. However, it hosts the European headquarters for many global brands, including Facebook and Apple. Meaning there are plenty of opportunities available to willing postgraduates. 

On the other hand, New Zealand is an extremely welcoming country for foreign students. There are also large vacancies in industries like Engineering, Business Management, Health and Social Services, Science, and more. That’s reflected in the 72 per cent of international students surveyed who said they planned to stay in the country after graduating.

Citizenship opportunities after studies

Suppose you wish to make a new life in your adopted country. In that case, you’ll either want permanent approval to stay or citizenship.

  • How easy are either of these to obtain?

Australia: After graduation, you can receive a 485 skilled graduate temporary visa, allowing temporary work, travel, and study in the region. Master’s students are entitled to stay for two to three years, depending on the course type. Apply for Permanent Residency at the end of a 485 visa – but it’s a tough process. Only those who can fill perceived skills shortages can stay. Finally, you can apply for Australian citizenship 

Canada: Stay Back in Canada is a lucrative choice for international students. Once you’ve completed the degree, you can apply for a post-study work permit. It’ll let you stay and work in Canada for up to 3 years. In the meantime, you can apply for temporary citizenship.

United Kingdom: Using a Graduate visa, you’ll be permitted to stay in the UK for at least two years after completing a degree. After two years, you’ll need to switch to another visa, like the Skilled Worker visa. To stay in the country permanently, you’ll need to comply with the new points-based immigration system, which ranks candidates on their skills and social circumstances. You’ll need to prove you’ve been living in the UK for five years if not married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen to apply for citizenship.

United States: US immigration law lists four types of visas for foreign students:

  • F-1 visas for full-time students at an academic institution
  • M-1 visa for full-time students at a non-academic institution
  • F-3 or M-3 visa for nationals of Canada or Mexico who commute to the US for full- or part-time study
  • J-1 visa for participants in educational or cultural exchange programs

Under the US system, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is the period in which a student can remain in the country, lasting between 12 to 36 months. Students with an F-1 visa can stay for up to 12 months of OPT. Otherwise, to reside, foreign students will need to apply for another visa type, like an H-1B speciality occupations visa or an E-1 Treaty Trader visa. 

Green cards are the name for lawful permanent residents in the US. To earn a green card, you must meet the eligibility criteria. However, full citizenship requires a further application process.

Cost of living

Accommodation. Food. Going out. All of these add up and contribute substantially to the cost of a master’s degree. While all the countries discussed share a similar standard of living, prices can differ wildly. Even within countries, the capital is likely to have a significantly higher cost of living than regional cities. London and Sydney, for instance, will have living costs far outstripping Liverpool or Brisbane, respectively. 

  • In Australia, living costs are estimated at $15,000 for a single student over a year. However, where you live can vastly alter expenses, with rental apartments ranging from $185 to $440 and shared rentals going for as little as $95.  
  • Canada, however, is even more divided. Universities will often require you to show evidence of $10,000 for 12 months of living expenses. But true costs depend on which province or city you go to. A month’s accommodation in Alberta only costs CAD $481 (though food equals CAD $282) compared to British Columbia, where accommodation will set you back CAD $871 (but the food is a little cheaper at $279). 
  • London is often more expensive than other cities in the UK however London is where the action and opportunities are. There is also a greater choice of bars, restaurants and activities in London. 
  • The US is a continental country – living costs can range from economical to astronomical. The West and East coast are the most expensive areas, with rents regularly topping $1,000 or more. Meanwhile, in Texas or midwestern states, rents can dip below $1,000. Indeed, New York and California also have the highest cost of living. 

Cost of travel (flights)

Flight costs are largely dependent on your home country and destination. If you’re based in Singapore, Australia is a much cheaper flight destination than East Coast Canada. Still, it’s something to bear in mind.

How often do you want to go home? How long will it take to fly? What is the average cost of a flight? 

Some students will be willing to see their families less often to study in a better location. Others won’t want to sacrifice coming home, no matter the course.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US are all fairly remote countries for most of the world. Ireland and the UK, however, are positioned near mainland Europe and closer to much of Africa and Asia than other options. With major international airports in the UK, more flights are likely to be available and at lower prices. 

Access to healthcare for international students

One of the areas you may not consider is healthcare. Knowing the ins and outs of a country’s healthcare systems means you’re prepared should the unexpected happen. 

Australia requires all visitors under a student visa to purchase Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) for their stay. It will cover all medical eventualities. However, you are covered by Medicare if you are on a student visa from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy, or New Zealand. 

Canada dictates the health insurance requirements by province. Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Yukon do not provide provincial coverage for international students. All the other provinces and territories provide some form of universal health coverage. For further details, see the local province’s website.

The United Kingdom provides free necessary treatment via the NHS to all students studying full-time for more than six months. You will need to register with a local doctor (a GP), who are often based in the university’s onsite medical centre. Registration is 100% free to all international students. Typically, EU and Swiss students will first pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (HIS) and then request reimbursement after proof of study 

The United States has a notoriously complex health insurance system. Health insurance requirements for international students may depend on their visa category. F-1 students, for instance, are not mandated health insurance – so, you can choose to go without.

But with extraordinary healthcare costs, it’s advised students take out insurance. Some universities offer health insurance plans; meanwhile, insurance companies offer products to overseas students. What you choose will dictate the level of medical care you receive. Certain procedures may not be available under different insurance packages. 

Medical insurance, even via a university, can be extremely expensive. At the University of California, graduate students spent $2,841 per semester on the school’s healthcare plan. 

Conclusion

Studying overseas is an amazing opportunity to learn and live in a new country.  But with so many countries from which to pick, it’s critical to weigh up your options. From living costs to academic systems, no two countries are the same. 

Which one you choose will depend on your circumstances. To find out more, visit the rest of our posts for further details, or visit the country in question’s national website where more information regarding master’s study is likely available. Higher education institutions are also more than happy to answer any questions – just send them an email.

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