Guidance on developing taught postgraduate programmes
This guidance has been developed as a reference for all staff at QMU who wish to develop a taught postgraduate programme at Master’s-level (M-level), or who are involved with the operation of such an award. The guidance offers a structure for a range of awards, and it allows different types of awards to be developed.
Responsibility for developing this guidance sits with the Student Experience Committee (SEC). SEC has a remit to establish and review strategies, policies and procedures that support and enhance the student experience, assure and enhance academic standards and the quality of the student learning experience, and promote best practice in curricula, learning and teaching and in the support of students. The membership of SEC includes academic and professional services colleagues as well as Students’ Union and wider student representation.
Responsibility for the operation of taught postgraduate programmes at QMU sits with Programme Committees and Boards of Examiners. This guidance must be read in conjunction with the wider University regulations, which are available from the Quality website. Full details of committee memberships and remits are also available from the Quality website. The University regulations are the definitive reference point for all staff and students and take precedence over any other University or programme specific materials.
1.1 Scope of QMU’s taught postgraduate programmes
This guidance sets out the external and internal context for the development of taught postgraduate programmes. It is relevant to the full range of taught postgraduate degrees (with one important exception – see below for details). Types of provision include specialist, multi-disciplinary, pre-registration and post- registration programmes, offering a wide range of choice to students in the type of programmes and the modes of study available.
Important: The guidance covers the majority of M-level awards, with the exception of the undergraduate Integrated Master’s degrees. A separate Appendix is included providing summary information on the award of Integrated Master’s.
QMU taught postgraduate programmes follow the modular, credit accumulation approach that is also used at undergraduate level. This provides the necessary flexibility to meet the needs and demands of individual students, while providing a structure which can be easily understood by students, deliverers, and planners of postgraduate programmes of study. The modular structure is important not only for full awards of the University, but also for students who are engaged in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or lifelong learning within QMU. This means that it is relevant also for the development of M-level micro- credentials, which are self-contained short programmes designed to support skills development and employability.
1.2 Approved M-level awards of the University
Approved M-level awards are listed below. New awards can be added only with agreement of the University Senate.
Master of Arts
Master of Science
Master of Fine Art
Master of Business Administration
Master of Public Administration
Master of Research
Professional Graduate Diploma
The majority of awards include subsidiary exit points of Postgraduate Diploma, or Postgraduate Certificate. It is also possible to develop a Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma as an award in its own right.
Modules may be accrued through a named route programme or, in some specific cases, through a more individually designed study route. Study may be full- or part-time depending on the validated programme. A student who does not wish to study for a full award may be able join the University as an Associate Student and complete modules on a stand-alone basis without registering for a specific award. This option is only available where modules are specifically available to be taken on a stand-alone basis.
1.3 Aims of the Guidance
The aims of this guidance are to:
- Provide the context for the development of taught postgraduate programmes at QMU with due regard to key internal and external reference points.
- Facilitate the growth and development of flexible, multidisciplinary, inter- disciplinary and professional programmes.
- Promote an equity in structure, design and standards across all modules and programmes, whilst embracing and encouraging diversity of approach.
Important: The guidance sets the context on an institutional level. Programme teams developing new taught postgraduate programmes also need to be familiar with any School, Divisional or other local expectations, recommendations and reference points.
A student's selected programme of study can be designed to:
a) Develop areas of study relevant to the profession, employment/industrial sector, or academic discipline in which the student is currently engaged.
b) Update the knowledge of those engaged in a field, especially where the discipline is subject to expansion or change.
c) Provide an analytical in-depth treatment of an area beyond their first-degree level in the same area.
d) Act as a re-orientation or conversion in areas new to the student or in areas not directly related to the scope of the student's first degree.
e) Support a student with a first degree in a relevant subject to exit with a pre- registration postgraduate degree that confers eligibility to register with a Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Body (PSRB).
f) Synthesise and integrate a number of disciplines or subjects.
g) Develop applied studies or to extend an area of study that cannot be pursued adequately at undergraduate level.
h) Support progression to further study at doctoral level.
1.4.1 Types of postgraduate award
The Quality Assurance Agency’s Characteristics Statement on Master’s Degrees categorises postgraduate awards as follows (copied directly from the Statement; includes references to some awards not currently offered at QMU):
Category 1: Research Master's degrees: Examples of Research Master's include the MPhil, MLitt and the MRes. Research Master's degrees usually aim to prepare students for the next stage in a research career, whether pursuing a further research programme or entering research-based employment; or to enable those undertaking the course to contribute towards research in the subject.
Category 2: Specialised or advanced study Master's degrees: Examples of specialised or advanced study Master's include the MSc, the MA, the MBA, the MRes and some integrated Master's.
Specialised or advanced study Master's degrees usually aim to prepare students for the next stage in their careers, whether that is further academic or professional study, or entering or progressing within employment of different kinds.
Category 3: Professional or practice Master's degrees: Examples of professional or practice Master's include the MBA, MDiv, LLM and MSW, post experience MAs and MScs and some integrated Master's.
Professional or practice Master's degrees usually aim to enable graduates to qualify for entry into a profession, subject to any further conditions required by the PSRB; or to provide development opportunities related to particular professions or employment settings.
Integrated Master's degrees6: Integrated Master's degrees are delivered through a course that combines study at the level of a bachelor's degree with honours with study at Master's level during the latter stages of the course. As such, a student usually graduates with a Master's degree after a continuous course of study.
Integrated Master's degree courses typically include study equivalent to at least one full-time academic year at level 11 in Scotland (for example, at Master's level).
2 Level of Awards
Within the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework, there are two parameters that determine qualifications: level of learning outcomes and volume of outcomes, calculated as number of credits. SCQF Level 11 includes a number of qualifications that differ only in the volume of credit, not in level of outcomes. The taught awards of Queen Margaret University that are delivered at SCQF Level 11 category are as set out in paragraph 1.2 of this Framework. Credit definitions for each of these qualifications are given in the Quality Assurance Agency’s Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions (QAA 2014).
Standards of awards will be determined by the demand made on students and their response to that demand. Standards will be benchmarked against the appropriate external reference points such as expectations of professional bodies and standards of similar awards in other universities as determined by the external examining system.
QMU taught postgraduate degrees are aligned with the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level descriptor for the Master's degree, which includes generic information around the skills, capabilities and qualities of allholders of the Master’s (level 11) qualification.
The shared aims of all taught postgraduate programmes at QMU are to enable
- Develop a deeper understanding of the relevant body of knowledge and their personal and professional skills in order to contribute to development of a subject area, field, or profession.
- Engage in critical reflection on practice and independent study for lifelong learning.
3.2 All validated taught postgraduate programmes will have programme-specific aims and learning outcomes. Programmes may also have learning outcomes that reflect expectations of Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies. The programme-specific outcomes must be cross-referred to the SCQF Level 11 descriptors and defined in the Programme Specifications.
3.3 Student Experience Strategy
The Student Experience Strategy serves as an important reference point for all undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes at QMU. The infographic below sets out the key priorities for the period 2021-26. Programme teams are expected to demonstrate through validation and periodic review how they align with the Strategy.
3.4 Graduate Attributes
4. Mode of Study
Taught postgraduate programmes facilitate student choice, allowing students to pursue their studies while still in employment for suitable routes. Modules may be available in ways that allow both part-time and full-time study. Modules may be offered, depending on demand:
- In the evening or at weekends
- In concentrated blocks of full-time study.
- In standard working hours during the weekdays.
- By flexible online asynchronous or synchronous learning.
- By supervised work-based learning.
In addition to the facilitated learning activities that are delivered on campus or online, students will engage in substantial independent study.
5 Admissions and registration
Staff developing taught postgraduate programmes should refer to the Admissions Regulations for standard minimum entry requirements. In addition, programmes may set higher and/or alternative entry requirements, for example to meet the needs of Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies. Programme-specific requirements will be defined in the Definitive Document, Student Handbook and associated materials. Advice and guidance is available from the Admissions Team.
The process and arrangements for entry with Advanced Standing can be found in the Regulations governing Recognition of Prior Learning (certificated and experiential).
5.2 Period of registration
Minimum and maximum periods of registration are set out in the University’s Registration Regulations.
6.1 The module
A module is a self-contained part of a programme with separate aims, pre- requisites, content and assessment as defined in the module descriptor. Each module offered is subject to a process of approval and review, which is designed to ensure the module meets the expectations for SCQF level 11, that it has been designed taking account of all relevant internal and external reference points, and that it meets the needs of students and employers. Learning, teaching and assessment methods for each module will vary according to the subject and context. However, all modules require similar student effort and meet the requirements of level 11 of the SCQF.
The building block of the taught postgraduate programmes is the standard module (20 credits), which is defined in terms of study time (approximately 200 hours per 20 credit module). The equivalent of nine 20-credit modules are to be completed to fulfil the requirements of a 180 credit Master’s programme.
Modules can be offered as core or elective units of study. Module viability for electives is determined by the Dean of School in conjunction with the University’s Academic Planning Board. When a module has to be withdrawn at short notice, the affected students will be guided to viable alternatives.
6.2 Requirements for the award of Master’s, Postgraduate Diploma and Postgraduate Certificate – extract from the University’s General Assessment Regulations
The Master’s degree will be awarded on the successful completion of modules equivalent to at least 180 credits, of which at least 160 must be at SCQF level 11. QMU modules are normally delivered as 20 credit units, or multiples thereof (40 or 60 credits). Each 20 credit module is estimated to require 200 hours of student effort.
A Master’s Degree will normally be awarded when the student has successfully completed:
a) Modules equivalent to 180 credits with a minimum of 160 credits at SCQF level 11 and no credits below SCQF level 10.
Some Master’s degrees will require considerably more credits than the minimum of 180. This is typically the case for pre-registration Health Care programmes, which include a significant number of credits, often practical/clinical skills, below SCQF level 11.
b) A Master’s Project either by research, a portfolio, a professional intervention, creative piece of work or work-based study which includes theoretical testing and analysis to the same high standard as required from a piece of empirical research. The project is typically weighted at either 60 or 40 credits. However, alternative project formats may also be approved, where appropriate.
The Postgraduate Diploma will be awarded on the successful completion of modules equivalent to at least 120 credits, of which at least 100 credits must be at SCQF level 11, and no credits below SCQF level 10.
The Postgraduate Certificate will be awarded on the successful completion of modules equivalent to at least 60 credits, of which at least 40 credits must be at SCQF level 11, and no credits below level 10.
6.3 CPD modules
Students successfully completing stand-alone modules/micro-credentials for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) will be awarded a transcript with the M-level credits for that module.
CPD credits may be accumulated and used towards either entering a named award or obtaining a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma. It is also possible to use a learning contract to assess learning that has taken place as a result of CPD activity and may cover the specific learning in the CPD module(s) together with the evaluation/application of that learning to the workplace.
6.4 Free route programmes
Exceptionally, a student may wish to construct a programme that deviates from the validated structure. Such amendments are possible only with the agreement of the School Academic Board. Please contact the relevant School Manager for further information
7 Titles of Master’s Degree
A programme of study at Master’s level may lead to one of the following awards to be confirmed through the validation process.
- The MA will be awarded where the programme is predominantly concerned with the fields of art, design and the humanities.
- The MBA will be awarded where the programme is based predominantly on the study of business management and its applications.
- The MFA will be awarded where the programme is based predominantly in the Fine Arts.
- The MSc will be awarded where the programme is based predominantly on science and its applications.
- The MRes will be awarded where the programme is predominantly concerned with research skills development.
The subsidiary award of Postgraduate Diploma is typically a named award. The Postgraduate Certificate may be offered as a named award, or as an unnamed PgCert. A named PgCert route will only be validated where there is sufficient evidence of specialist content. This is a matter of academic judgement to be determined at the validation event.
8 Change of Programme
Exceptionally, a student may change their agreed programme of study. Such changes require the approval of the Programme Leader. A student wishing to change their programme of study is encouraged to discuss this with their Personal Academic Tutor in the first instance. This will provide an opportunity for the student and PAT to discuss the reason for the change and confirm that the revised programme is still coherent, that the necessary prerequisite qualifications are fulfilled, and that the registration period is still within the allowed time.
9 Programme management
Responsibilities for the oversight of taught postgraduate programmes are broadly the same as for undergraduate programmes. Full details of these responsibilities are contained in the Programme Management section of the Quality website, which covers the following:
- Roles and responsibilities: Dean, Head of Division, Programme Leader
- Arrangements for the Personal Academic Tutor (PAT) System
- Operation of the Programme Committee
- Operation of the Student-Staff Consultative Committee
9.1 Committee management
The nature of postgraduate study means that it can be difficult to schedule Programme and Student-Staff Consultative Committee meetings. This particularly, but not exclusively, applies to part-time programmes, where students are often also in full-time employment. In the event that it is not possible to organise a committee meeting in line with the usual practice set out in the Programme Management Regulations, teams are encouraged to take a more flexible approach, whilst observing the minimum requirements.
10 Learning, Teaching and Assessment
In accordance with the University’s Student Experience Strategy, all taught postgraduate programmes will be student-centred. The learning, teaching and assessment strategies will be designed to enable independent progress within a supportive framework.
Guided by the principles of constructive alignment, and recognising diversity of learning styles and background, learning will be facilitated and assessed using strategies most appropriate to support achievement of learning outcomes within the discipline.
Constructive alignment is an outcomes-based approach to teaching, in which the learning outcomes that students are intended to achieve are defined before teaching takes place. Teaching and assessment methods are then designed to best achieve those outcomes and to assess the standard at which they have been achieved.
Teaching and assessment strategies will enable students to develop their full potential by recognising and building on prior knowledge and experience and by facilitating development of subject-related knowledge and skills and the QMU Graduate Attributes. Strategies should develop and reward critical, evaluative and enquiry-based approaches to study.
Students should have a broad appreciation of the range of methodologies that are available to researchers, including both quantitative and qualitative modes of inquiry. They should understand the general principles and characteristic practices of those various approaches to research, for example, the theoretical underpinnings, data gathering techniques and forms of data analysis. Students should be able to appreciate the reasons why researchers come to adopt a particular methodology which is appropriate both to their object of study and to the aims of their investigation. They will also benefit from an understanding of the ethical and political issues that can arise in the planning, conduct and presentation of a research project.
Students should be facilitated to develop a deeper working knowledge of the key methodologies that are employed in their chosen subject area or discipline. They should be able to critically evaluate contemporary research developments in that field. Most importantly, students should develop the conceptual and practical skills necessary to carry out independent research in the form of a Master’s dissertation, or other major project, so that they are competent to define a manageable topic of study, decide on appropriate strategies for inquiry, development, analysis and conclusions, and are able to present results in appropriate formats and media.
The Master’s project is amongst the most important learning activities for Master’s students and is therefore usually weighted equivalent to two or three 20- credit modules. Dependent on the award, this significant assessment may be a dissertation, an original and creative work, a work-based study, a portfolio or a professional intervention, but it must include theoretical evaluation and analysis of a high standard equivalent to a piece of empirical research, and must contribute to the development of the subject or profession. Further information is provided in Appendix one.
11 The Master’s dissertation or other major project (the project)
The general guidelines for Master’s projects are given in Appendix 1. Individual programmes will define the expectations, including timeline within their Definitive Document and student-facing materials.
The achievement of a study of sufficient depth and quality to satisfy the requirements of a Master’s project cannot necessarily be programmed within specific time limits. Whilst students will be encouraged not to delay the process, more importance will be placed on the quality and maturity of their work than the speed with which they achieve it.
Students will typically submit a synopsis of the proposed project for review, the timing of which is to be discussed with the dissertation supervisor, or other nominated staff member. This will allow some preparatory work for a proposal or full outline to commence.
The dissertation supervisor, or the nominated staff member, will provide guidance on other timelines relevant to the discipline and programme. Such timelines will vary according to factors such as mode of study and project format.
Those conducting the assessment of the project will normally be the supervisor and a member of staff appointed as a second independent marker for the project. Projects will be double-blind marked. Full information on marking and moderation can be found in the Assessment Regulations.
12 Assessment and examination
Assessment Regulations are available from the Quality website. Programme teams may exceptionally introduce programme specific assessment regulations, where there is good cause to do so. Any such changes must be approved either through the validation process, or via the School Academic Board. Typically such regulations apply where there are PSRB requirements.
Regulations governing Boards of Examiners are also available from the Quality website. In common with undergraduate programmes at QMU, an External Examiner is appointed for each taught postgraduate programme. The role of the External Examiner is of crucial importance in maintaining the postgraduate standard of the modules. Individual External Examiners may be responsible for a specific set of modules or for a whole programme. Full information on External Examining is available from our External Examiner Regulations.
13 Academic misconduct
QMU’s Plagiarism Policy is available from the Quality website. QMU defines plagiarism as follows:
The presentation by an individual of another person’s idea or work (in any medium, or unpublished) as though they were his or her own work...academic collusion is deemed to be unacceptable where it involves the unauthorised and unattributed collaboration of students or others’ work resulting in plagiarism, which is against University discipline
In the following circumstances academic collusion represents a form of plagiarism:
Academic collusion is deemed to be unacceptable where it involves the unauthorised and unattributed collaboration of students or others work resulting in plagiarism, which is against University discipline.
Resources to support good academic practice are available on the Library and Effective Learning Service website. Additionally, all QMU students (undergraduate, taught postgraduate and research postgraduate) have access to Studiosity.
14 Introducing changes to a Master’s programme
In order to keep taught postgraduate programmes dynamic, current and responsive to the need for change, various alterations may be implemented with due authorisation. Please refer to the Programme Development, Modification, Monitoring and Review section of the Governance and Regulations. Normally changes should be proposed and approved well in advance of the implementation date and usually at least one semester before the proposed change (accepting that the programme may run across three semesters in the year).The Assistant Secretary, Governance and Quality Enhancement can offer advice.
Master’s project guidance
Important: This Appendix provides generic guidance on the expectations and management of the Master’s dissertation or other major project (the project). It is recognised that a variety of project models are in place across the University, and more specific guidance should be provided in the Definitive Document and other programme specific materials.
The project is the culmination of the Master’s programme, successful completion of which allows the student to demonstrate achievement of the overarching programme aims and outcomes. It carries a weight that is normally equivalent to either two (40 credits) or three (60 credits) taught modules and thus represents around either 400 or 600 hours of student effort. In general, the project must reflect sufficient evidence of independent thought to justify the award at Master’s level.
The subject of the project often aligns with work with which the student is already involved or represents development within a cognate academic discipline. Students may also choose to pursue a subject in an area where they wish to develop experience.
The project, regardless of its format, must be intellectually demanding and clearly applicable to Master’s level study. The nature and scope of the project must be discussed with relevant academic colleagues, and if appropriate professionals in the field, one of whom may be invited to act as supervisor. Under certain circumstances, students may also wish to consult with their employer.
The project should be an exposition of the student's own work, ideas and/or contribution. If the work for the project forms part of a group endeavour e.g. within the student’s employing organisation, it is essential that the student's personal contribution is clearly identified and outlined. Students are required to discuss any copyright implications, both with their employer, and relevant academic staff (usually the project supervisor).
2 The Aims of the Project
The general aims of the project are to:
a) Enable students to develop and apply the skills of research and enquiry to produce original work which contributes to a subject, field or profession.
b) Engage students in study which demands a professional approach, academic rigour, independence and self-direction
The specific aims of the project are to enable the student to:
a) Explore and apply relevant intellectual approaches and practical skills,
including those acquired in the taught components, to the chosen topic.
b) Develop critically, strategically and in depth a topic or area of interest arising from the work undertaken within the taught modules contributing to the programme and in the student's area of academic or professional interest.
c) Develop further the research skills as acquired through the taught research modules and/or other research content, to demonstrate an ability to set the project in its wider context, to sustain argument and to present conclusions.
d) Present and be able to defend their rationale, approach or methodology, outcomes and conclusions.
3 Points to cover in the Definitive Document/student facing materials
When designing a new taught postgraduate programme, it will be important to consider and clearly define within the Definitive Programme Document and student facing materials the following key points:
- Student responsibilities
- Programme Leader responsibilities
- Dissertation supervisor (or equivalent) responsibilities
- The process for agreeing the project topic
- The structure and format of the project
- How to present the project
- Arrangements for securing ethical approval
- Marking criteria – the following generic criteria will apply:
Process: Demonstrates appreciation and comprehension of the task planned and undertaken showing initiative and thorough grasp of relevant literature to demonstrate a sound understanding and knowledge. The work should demonstrate competence in the following, as appropriate to the subject: use of new methodologies; apparatus or technique(s), collection and analysis of data and/or statistical applications; use of new technology; creativity and resourcefulness in meeting project objective(s); thoroughness in undertaking of the investigation. Students will also demonstrate originality of thought and/or execution.
Written submission: Demonstrates thoroughness of review and critical appraisal of past work and use of relevant literature; care in presentation including diagrams if appropriate; clarity and accuracy of prose; organisation of report into logical sequence; choice of style of presentation as shown by clarity of results; intellectual quality of analysis; discussion of results, conclusions and suggestions for further work.
Oral examination/other components assessed orally (where applicable): Demonstrates complete grasp of the topic; thorough understanding of ethical issues therein; achievement of the objectives; attention to cost and quality if appropriate; presentation and communication skills.
The presentation and oral examination/other components assessed orally include the demonstration of the results in a project that has an experimental component. For projects that are predominantly theoretical or design oriented, the assessment component for the report may be increased relative to the oral examination components at the discretion of the assessment team. Students should refer to the individual programme handbook/module descriptor for detail of projects of this nature.
Key points for Supervisors – output from a 2021 Student Experience Committee project on the dissertation/other major project
- Make sure that the Student Handbook/Dissertation Handbook/Other Major Project Handbook and other relevant materials are up to date and accessible to students.
- Explicitly direct students to relevant materials at the beginning of their work on the dissertation/other major project, and issue regular reminders.
- Be clear about the frequency and format of supervisory meetings7 and clarify responsibility for arranging and recording meeting outcomes.
- Consider flexible approaches to supervisory meetings to accommodate online meetings where appropriate.
- Arrange an introductory group session at the beginning of your students’ work on the dissertation/other major project to discuss the arrangements.
- Consider running sessions throughout the duration of the dissertation/other major project to cover topics such as writing the proposal, ethics etc.
- Establish opportunities for students to network – writing the dissertation/other major project can be a lonely process and students can benefit from peer support.
- Clarify expectations for matters such as the timescale for responding to emails, timescale for feedback and number of drafts on which you will provide feedback.
- Help your students understand the expectations for presentation, formatting and referencing, signposting them to the Learning Resource Centre, Effective Learning Service and other relevant resources.
- Consider the particular needs of part-time students and students not following the usual timeline to make sure they can access relevant group sessions at a meaningful stage in their dissertation/other major project.
- Participate in Division or School staff development sessions on dissertation/other major project support.
- If you are supervising a dissertation/other major project for the first time, consider working with a mentor from your Division. This can be especially useful if you are supervising a different type of project to those you have supervised previously.
Integrated Master’s: summary information
Integrated Master’s programmes refer to an Undergraduate programme that results in a Master’s qualification. Integrated Master's degrees are delivered through a course that combines study at the level of a Bachelor's degree with study at Master's level during the later stages of the course. As such, a student usually graduates with a Master's degree after a continuous course of study.
2. Credits and levels
In line with Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework requirements, students on Integrated Master's degree courses will typically complete a total of 600 credits, of which at least 120 credits will be at level 11 (at Master’s level). These credits are spread over the duration of the programme (usually four years). For a four-year Integrated Master’s programme, students are required to complete more than the normal 120 SCQF credits in each year. They may also be required to undertake credits at different levels in the same year, for example 120 SCQF level 7 credits and 20 SCQF level 8 credits in year 1.
3. Progression and exit awards
In line with QMU regulations and the SCQF, there will be a range of exit qualifications, with each award dependent on the number and level of module credits achieved. Details of possible exit qualifications are outlined in QMU Awards regulations. Programmes may also have a final exit award at SCQF level 10 (e.g. BSc Honours). The award classification for a Master’s qualification will be calculated based on the marks gained for Master’s level modules (SCQF 11)
Considering the demands of the programme in terms of number of credits in a year, as well as the higher level of credits, programmes may set requirements for students to perform at a certain academic level to progress to Master’s level study. For example, a progression point at the end of year 2 where an overall average of 60% is required for progression on the M programme; students who do not meet such requirements will normally continue on the Undergraduate (e.g. BSc Honours) route.