Although not equivalent to a master’s degree, a postgraduate diploma is an educational credential with an equal number of benefits. In fact, in some cases, it can even be a more appealing option.
In a nutshell, a postgraduate diploma (PGDip, PG Dip, PgD, PgDip) can be defined as a non-research counterpart of master studies. Usually, students who opt for this form of postgraduate degree are expected to complete the same or similar workload without having to do a research project (master’s thesis).
There are several types of PGDip programmes, depending on the main focus of the studies: academic, vocational, and professional training (for regulated professions).
Each one is conducted on the same academic level as master’s studies, and each one has a comparable variety of subject areas to choose from. The main difference resides in the overall length of the study, strategic orientation towards practical skills, and somewhat looser eligibility requirements.
In other words, there is no definite answer to the question “which is better – master’s or a postgraduate diploma.” There are only different educational needs corresponding to various backgrounds and goals.
Read on to find out what type of postgraduate studies is best suited for your individual needs.
As we noted above, a postgraduate diploma is in many ways not equivalent to a master’s degree. Both come with their unique sets of values and benefits.
However, both master and PGDip programmes are often offered in the same subject areas, meaning there are usually quite a few similarities in their corresponding curricula.
When it comes to academic postgraduate programmes particularly, these similarities can easily shift into plain identity. Students can attend the same classes, complete identical coursework, and take equivalent amounts of exams.
But, at the end of the day, obtained degrees will be distinctly different from one another. As will the journey that led to their acquisition.
If we were to put a numeric value on both educational paths, a postgraduate diploma would be equivalent to two-thirds of a master’s.
To be precise, a PGDip is worth 120 CATS / 60 ECTS credits, whereas a full masters will get you 180 CATS/ 90-120 ECTS credits.
The third extra credit is earned through completing a research project.
Naturally, the credit system reflects the length of a PGDip programme vs. those of a full master’s.
If you commit to a PGDip programme full-time, expect to obtain your degree after two terms of study, which roughly equates to 30 weeks. Compared to full-time studies of a master’s programme, which take approximately two years to complete, the length of PGDip studies is significantly shorter.
Perhaps the most important distinctive feature of postgraduate diploma programmes is their strategic inclination towards applied theory. Their curricula are usually designed to provide students with immediate and practical applicability of gained knowledge.
The specific pragmatist orientation of the PGDip studies is especially emphasized in vocational programmes, which concentrate on preparing students for particular occupations.
By contrast, master’s programmes develop research-based skills and are a more immediate introduction to Ph.D. studies. But, of course, this doesn’t mean that research doesn’t have its place in the industry, nor that related skillsets won’t find their place in the labour market.
The point is that PGDip’s strategic orientation towards businesslike intelligence will often lead more directly into paid employment.
Because universities expect many PGDip candidates to come from the workforce, they often integrate flexibility into their programmes. This is usually true for master’s as well, but the research component of the degree can set quite a few extra demands.
In short, a postgraduate diploma will not require you to sacrifice as many work and life commitments as would, presumably, a full master’s.
Most tertiary institutions have found it helpful to nest a postgraduate diploma or a postgraduate course within a master’s programme. That way, students can easily upgrade their diplomas to master degrees, and vice versa – they can still be awarded a diploma if they drop out of their master’s studies.
Naturally, you’ll have to check specific admission requirements with the university of your choice, but the general trend is to allow easy progression between qualification levels.
The recent enrollment crisis has shown academic institutions that students are unwilling to commit to big blocks of full-time studies, especially when they are not sure about return on investment. As a result, the experts are suggesting that the educational landscape will see some dramatic shifts in the years to come, which will allow easy conversion of a postgraduate diploma to a master’s.
But we cannot formulate the value of a postgraduate diploma purely in comparison to master studies. It’s not just its degraded version. A postgraduate diploma is an educational credential with its own set of benefits.
As refrained in this article, obtaining a diploma can be a faster route to employment. It’s usually undertaken by people who already have some work experience or a specific position as a goal.
Those who would like to pursue a career in academia should opt for a full-time master’s or academic PGDip programme.
By contrast, the substantial value of a postgraduate diploma is offering industry-relevant expertise that’s applicable immediately after graduation.
Since PGDip programmes are shorter qualifications, they are a less demanding investment of your time and money.
Naturally, tuition fees and study costs can vary significantly across tertiary institutions, but – as a general rule – the price of a PGDip programme will reflect its shorter length and be much lower than the price of master’s studies.
Whereas master studies have strict admission requirements, it is possible to enroll in PGD programmes by adhering to somewhat looser criteria.
Most post-secondary institutions will even consider enrolling students who don’t hold a bachelor’s degree but have spent some time in the workforce.
After all, a postgraduate diploma is accreditation of your professional expertise, and it only seems logical to put greater emphasis on work experience.
The true value of focussed education is yet to be revealed, experts suggest.
According to Andy Lane, professor of environmental systems at the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, we will likely see further growth in PGDip qualifications. (Guardian, op.cit.)
More than 90% of Open University postgraduate students are already in employment, and their employers are funding many, he noted.
In other words, a postgraduate diploma might be emerging as a new form of qualification that nurtures close relationships to the labour market – something a traditional education perhaps lacks.
Surely there can be no final verdict here. Or, at least – it would have to be formulated by yourself.
None of the educational credentials compared here are necessarily “better than the other.” Each one suits different goals, purposes, and backgrounds.
If you are research-oriented and feel that your career should be geared towards academia, a master’s degree programme should be your first choice. Academic postgraduate diploma the second.
But if your primary inclination is towards practical work and you see yourself in a particular position that requires a pragmatic skill set, opt for a postgraduate diploma. After all, you can always upskill later or convert to a master’s degree.