Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence



ANNEX 1

A BRIEF GUIDE TO ACADEMIC QUALIFICATIONS

  The higher education qualifications awarded by universities and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are at five levels. In ascending order, these are the Certificate, Intermediate, Honours, Masters and Doctoral levels.

CERTIFICATE LEVEL

  The holder of a Certificate of Higher Education will have a sound knowledge of the basic concepts of a subject, and will have learned how to take different approaches to solving problems. He or she will be able to communicate accurately, and will have the qualities needed for employment requiring the exercise of some person responsibility.

  A Certificate may be a first step towards obtaining higher level qualifications.

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL

  Holders of qualifications at this level will have developed a sound understanding of the principles in their field of study, and will have learned to apply those principles more widely. Through this, they will have learned to evaluate the appropriateness of different approaches to solving problems. Their studies may well have had a vocational orientation, enabling them to perform effectively in their chosen field.

  They will have the qualities necessary for employment in situations requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and decision making.

  The intermediate level includes higher diplomas, ordinary (non-honours) degrees, the Foundation Degree, Diplomas in Higher Education, and other higher diplomas.

HONOURS LEVEL

  An honours graduate will have developed an understanding of a complex body of knowledge, some of it at the current boundaries of an academic discipline. Through this, the graduate will have developed analytical techniques and problem solving skills that can be applied in many types of employment. The graduate will be able to evaluate evidence, arguments and assumptions, to reach sound judgements, and to communicate effectively.

  An honours graduate should have the qualities needed for employment in situations requiring the exercise of personal responsibility, and decision making in complex and unpredictable circumstances.

  Honours degrees form the largest group of higher education qualifications. Typical courses last for three years (if taken full time) and lead to a Bachelors degree with honours, having a title such as Bachelor of Arts (BA(Hons)) or Bachelor of Science (BSc(Hons)). Also at this level are short courses and professional "conversion" courses, based largely on undergraduate material, and taken usually by those who are already graduates in another discipline, leading to Graduate Certificates or Diplomas.

MASTERS LEVEL

  Much of the study undertaken at Masters level will have been at, or informed by, the forefront of an academic or professional discipline. Students will have shown originality in the application of knowledge, and they will understand how the boundaries of knowledge are advanced through research. They will be able to deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, and they will show originality in tackling and solving problems.

  They will have the qualities needed for employment in circumstances requiring sound judgement, personal responsibility and initiative in complex and unpredictable professional environments.

  Masters degrees are awarded after completion of taught courses, programmes of research, or a mixture of both. Longer, research based programmes often lead to the degree of M.Phil. Most Masters courses last at least one year (if taken full time), and are taken by persons with honours degrees (or equivalent achievement). Some Masters degrees in science and engineering are awarded after extended undergraduate programmes that last, typically, a year longer than honours degree programmes. Also at this level are advanced short courses, often forming parts of Continuing Professional Development programmes, leading to Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas. (NB the MAs granted by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are not academic qualifications).

DOCTORAL LEVEL

  Doctorates are awarded for the creation and interpretation of knowledge, which extends the forefront of a discipline, usually through original research. Holders of doctorates will be able to conceptualise, design and implement projects for the generation of significant new knowledge and/or understanding.

  Holders of doctorates will have the qualities needed for employment requiring the ability to make informed judgements on complex issues in specialist fields, and innovation in tackling and solving problems.

  The titles PhD and DPhil are commonly used for doctorates awarded on the basis of original research. Doctoral programmes, that may include a research component, but which have a substantial taught element lead usually to degrees that include the name of the discipline in their title (eg Ed.D for Doctor of Education). A doctorate normally requires the equivalent of three years full time study.

FURTHER INFORMATION

  More detailed statements of graduate attributes are set out in subject benchmark statements produced for broad subject areas, at Honours level, and at other levels where there are substantial numbers of taught courses in the subject.

  For each course, the providing university or college writes a programme specification, setting out in detail the knowledge, understanding and skills that the successful student should acquire.

  The achievements of individual students are recorded in personal progress files.



QUALIFICATION DESCRIPTORS

Descriptor for a qualification at Certificate (c) level : Certificate of Higher Education

  Certificates of Higher Education are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

    (i)  knowledge of the underlying concepts and principles associated with their area(s) of study, and an ability to evaluate and interpret these within the context of that area of study;

    (ii)  an ability to present, evaluate, and interpret qualitative and quantitative data, to develop lines of argument and make sound judgements in accordance with basic theories and concepts of their subject(s) of study.

  Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

    (a)  evaluate the appropriateness of different approaches to solving problems related to their area(s) of study and/or work;

    (b)  communicate the results of their study/work accurately and reliably, and with structured and coherent arguments;

    (c)  undertake further training and develop new skills within a structured and managed environment;

    (d)  qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of some personal responsibility.

Descriptor for a qualification at Intermediate (I) level: degree (non-honours).

  Non-honours degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

    (i)  knowledge and critical understanding of the well-established principles of their area(s) of study, and of the way in which those principles have developed;

    (ii)  ability to apply underlying concepts and principles outside the context in which they were first studied, including, where appropriate, the application of those principles in an employment context;

    (iii)  knowledge of the main methods of enquiry in their subject(s), and ability to evaluate critically the appropriateness of different approaches to solving problems in the field of study;

    (iv)  an understanding of the limits of their knowledge, and how this influences analyses and interpretations based on that knowledge.

  Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

    (a)  use a range of established techniques to initiate and undertake critical analysis of information, and to propose solutions to problems arising from that analysis;

    (b)  effectively communicate information, arguments, and analysis, in a variety of forms, to specialist and non-specialist audiences; and deploy key techniques of the discipline effectively;

    (c)  undertake further training, develop existing skills, and acquire new competences that will enable them to assume significant responsibility within organisations;

  and will have:

    (d)  qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and decision making.

Descriptor for a qualification at Honours (H) level: Bachelors degree with honours

  Honours degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

    (i)  a systematic understanding of key aspects of their field of study, including acquisition of coherent and detailed knowledge, at least some of which is at, or informed by the forefront of defined aspects of a discipline;

    (ii)  an ability to deploy accurately established techniques of analysis and enquiry within a discipline;

    (iii)  conceptual understanding that enables the student:

      to devise and sustain arguments, and/or to solve problems, using ideas and techniques, some of which are at the forefront of a discipline; and

      to describe, and comment upon particular aspects of current research, or equivalent advanced scholarship, in the discipline;

    (iv)  an appreciation of the uncertainty, ambiguity and limits of knowledge;

    (v)  the ability to manage their own learning, and to make use of scholarly reviews and primary sources (eg referred research articles and/or original materials appropriate to the discipline).

  Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

    (a)  apply the methods and techniques that they have learned to review, consolidate, extend and apply their knowledge and understanding; and to initiate and carry out projects;

    (b)  critically evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data (that may be incomplete); to make judgements, and to frame appropriate questions to achieve a solution—or identify a range of solutions—to a problem;

    (c)  communicate information, ideas, problems, and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences.

  and will have:

    (d)  qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring:

      —  the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility,

      —  decision making in complex and unpredictable contexts, and

      —  the learning ability needed to undertake appropriate further training of a professional or equivalent nature.

Descriptor for a qualification at Masters (M) level: Masters degree

  Masters degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

    (i)  a systematic understanding of knowledge, and a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of their academic discipline, field of study, or area of professional practice;

    (ii)  a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to their own research or advanced scholarship;

    (iii)  originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding or how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline;

    (iv)  conceptual understanding that enables the student

      —  to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline; and

      —  to evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, to propose new hypotheses.

  Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

    (a)  deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences;

    (b)  demonstrate self direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level;

    (c)  continue to advance their knowledge and understanding, and to develop new skills to a high level;

  and will have:

    (d)  the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring:

      —  the exercise of initiative and personal responsibility,

      —  decision making in complex and unpredictable situations, and

      —  the independent learning ability required for continuing professional development.

Descriptor for qualifications at Doctoral (D) level: Doctoral degree

  Doctorates are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

    (i)  the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research, or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication;

    (ii)  a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;

    (iii)  the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;

    (iv)  a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry.

  Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

    (a)  make informed judgements on complex issues in specialist fields, often in the absence of complete data, and be able to communicate their ideas and conclusions clearly and effectively to specialist and non-specialist audiences;

    (b)  continue to undertake pure and/or applied research and development at an advanced level, contributing substantially to the development of new techniques, ideas, or approaches;

  and will have:

    (c)  the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex and unpredictable situations, in professional or equivalent environments.


 
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Prepared 19 February 2001