The Project


This project, 'I've done a coursework masters, now I'd like to do a doctorate: Can I?', led by the Australian National University, aims to gain a better understanding of the research education components of coursework masters programs.

The project examines the extent to which a coursework masters that includes a research project provides an effective, supportable entry to a research program in Australia.

In particular the study will examine the research capacity of students developed through such projects and the motivations and experiences of such graduates entering doctoral programs.

The study aims to ‘fill-in’ the gaps in order to suggest ways in which pedagogy and curriculum design might be modified and developed to facilitate: a) an enriched research experience and understanding; and b) effective articulation between coursework masters and further study thereby providing optimum access opportunities and sound preparation for aspiring research students.

Four site universities were used for this project: one Go8, one from the Australian Technology Network, one from the Innovative Research Universities group, and one from the non-aligned universities.

Support for this project website has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching

The views in this project do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.



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Data has been collected at four publicly funded universities: one each from Group of Eight (Go8), ATN and IRU groupings, as well as one regional/other. In order to provide a spread of disciplines, information was sought from, and regarding, students and programs in the Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences, Engineering and IT.

After obtaining relevant ethics and institutional approvals, four research assistants (RAs)—one at each site—were recruited to conduct the research ie to gather qualitative data about the contemporary coursework masters program experience in Australia from the perspective of each of the three target groups: students, supervisors and coordinators.


▪ Interviews

The RAs identified potential interviewees and gained formal consent of those who were willing to participate. The project leader, Dr Margaret Kiley, visited the four participating institutions for initial student and supervisor interviews to model the preferred interview approach.

Semi-structured interviews conducted by the RAs were digitally recorded, transcribed and subsequently validated with each participant during the period May–December 2011. The RAs also obtained select demographic data for interviewees: age-group, gender, broad field of study, citizenship and status (full-time or part-time).

In total, 35 students, 21 supervisors, and 18 coordinators were interviewed.

An in-depth analysis of the interview data was conducted at the ANU using NVivo software. In this way, principal categories, themes and issues for each target group were identified.


▪ University Data

Key findings in terms of overseas universities’ entry requirements for a PhD (14 surveyed) are that most institutions seek evidence of: a Masters degree (eg in the proposed discipline or by research); research experience (eg publications emanating from research); academic achievement (eg honours, awards); research proposal (eg statement of intentions/interests/goals); and language proficiency (eg English).

The survey of Australian universities’ entry requirements to a PhD (20 respondents) found that most seek evidence of academic achievement/ability/writing and research performance/readiness/potential under the qualification of First Class Honours, or H1 Equivalence.

However, as a result of the lack of data in a majority of Australian universities regarding the qualifications of candidates entering a PhD, (for example, most universities do not record whether the candidate entered with a coursework or a research masters degree), the project has begun to compile data which indicates current practice, and what universities hope/plan to do in the future about this issue.



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The final project report will be available in early 2013.

While initial analysis of interview data suggests that Honours 1 Equivalence is still the ‘gold standard’ for entry to a PhD particularly at Go8 universities, there is an identifiable trend towards greater integration of work, education and research.

A range of new models of postgraduate study that reflect greater flexibility in structure and approach are either in operation or foreshadowed at a number of institutions. These include combining existing degree programs (eg joint Masters/PhD) and designing new programs (eg four year PhD); ‘packaged student offers’  incorporating flexible doctoral pathways; accredited exit points (eg Graduate Diplomas); ‘professional’ and ‘practice’ doctorates; and coursework Masters that allow choice part way through for greater or less emphasis on the research component.



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