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Undergraduate Bachelors versus Coursework Masters

Often in coursework Masters the curriculum states an identical unit name as an undergraduate course equivalent with identical textbook and often the same lecturer. The only obvious difference to the layman is the unit code is different for undergraduate and postgraduate units. Unfortunately, this superficial similarity leads to a myth that undergraduates and postgraduates do the same coursework.

Undergraduate Coursework

The point of an undergraduate course is to provide students with the generic graduate attributes within a general discipline – the ability to learn, to research, to write a minimum level of essay and reports. The firm who hires an undergraduate at the end of their course is receiving an empty container…

… a computer graduate is someone who isn’t a trained out-of-the-box programmer but someone ready to embark on a career as an IT professional. The same goes for accounting graduates and marketing graduates. You don’t hire an undergraduate and sit them in an office expecting them to do much at all except be the standardised product of the university system.

Here is an example. In undergraduate business courses there is a heavy emphasis on working through the textbook and learning the models, terminology and underlying theory. The exams and assignments are designed primarily to ensure that base level of understanding is achieved… but rarely will it extend the student.

Postgraduate Coursework

I recently completed a Master of Business Administration (Journalism and Media Studies) that entailed two years of post-graduate coursework at the University of Tasmania. The product of an MBA graduate is completely different than the undergraduate.

MBA graduates will mostly go overseas to large organisations and perform middle management roles… or become entrepreneurs… the MBA program is globally considered as the training ground, the only real training ground, for middle managers in large organisations. The course assumes 7 years business experience when you walk in the door (as opposed to the blank post-college canvas of an undergraduate).

Here’s the rub. Your lecturer will walk in the door and hold up the textbook and tell you that your coursework will not be focused on regurgitating that theory. The expectation at the Masters level is that you read the book before the course began and you already know the theory. What you have to achieve are outcomes that show in practice that you understood the theory from that book.

If you didn’t study that book as an undergraduate then it’s your responsibility for each and every unit within the MBA program to get yourself up to speed.

It is also expected that having read the book as a starting point your postgraduate work will independently extend through research and practical skills. There is also a high level of failure within certain units of the MBA program – economics and statistics, in particular.

The assignment work given to the undergraduate is also completely different to that provided to post-graduate coursework students. The post-graduate is there to learn to provide real world outcomes… not theoretical ones… so real world problems are solved as they would be within large industries. The pedantic level of perfection in report writing and the depth of research skills far exceed the expectation of an undergraduate.

Comparing Undergraduate to Postgraduate Coursework

The confusion around this is understandable. Different disciplines obviously reign over their own management of coursework curriculum. But there’s also the ignorance that comes from people only knowing the form of university training that they experienced first hand. Just like it’s impossible to explain to a TAFE diploma graduate that university isn’t just TAFE but harder… it’s different.

If someone asked me what a business school research masters student does – and I know several very well – my answer would be vague. How would I know? I was busy doing my own work while they researched and watched television? Maybe the television is a myth, too.

It’s kind of naive to read the University Coursebook in subjects that are unrelated to your own discipline and make assumptions based on the name of courses. But that’s how life goes. Ultimately the test is this: as a postgraduate you should be able to do the stuff… not just regurgitate the theory.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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