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Taught Master's Degrees Explained

What is a taught master’s? What’s the difference between a taught master’s and a research master’s? Which type of postgraduate programme should you choose?

When looking into international study there are so many choices, and so much jargon to try and interpret, it can be a hard task to work out the best option for you.

A particular type of master’s programme, described as a taught master’s, is becoming increasing popular in New Zealand. But because every programme and every university is different, it can be difficult to explain exactly what a taught master’s is.

To get a better understanding, I talked to Professor David Bainbridge, who helped establish the University of Waikato’s Master in Information Technology programme. Generally, he describes taught master’s study as a broadening of knowledge, whereas a research master’s is for specialisation. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Read on to find out more about the key features of taught master’s study in New Zealand.

Taught Master's vs. Research Master's


As their names suggest, one of the key differences between a taught master’s programme and a research master’s programme is the style and structure of study.

A research master’s is largely self-directed. With support and guidance from a supervisor, your degree will be made up of a large research project and a thesis. A taught master’s by comparison, is predominantly made up of structured taught courses.

Many master’s programmes in New Zealand actually include a mixture of taught courses and a research project. Whether the programme is considered a taught or a research master’s depends on the dominant learning format within the programme.

Career pathway

When choosing between research or taught master’s study, your career goals should be a key consideration. A research master’s could lead into further study at PhD level, whereas a taught master’s programme usually has a focus towards applied learning and preparation for work.

Professor Bainbridge says, “With a research master’s, you’re really getting deep into a particular area of a subject. You’ve done a bachelor’s degree in that subject and you’re now specialising even more.”

“A taught master’s is about producing a more well-rounded graduate that has a broad range of technical skills and soft skills and possibly even an additional subject from their original qualification.”

A number of taught master’s programmes are designed to allow students to study a subject area that is different to the focus of their undergraduate degree.

The Master of Information Technology (MIT) for example enables people with a bachelor’s degree in any other subject to take their career in a new direction by learning the technical side of information technology and computer science. For those who already have an undergraduate degree in computer science, the MIT focuses on the business and management skills that will enable them to take a step up in their career.

Entry requirements and length of study

In addition to your ultimate career goals, your previous study experience will help determine which master’s programmes you’re eligible for, as well as how long you need to study to earn your degree.

Traditionally a New Zealand master’s degree requires two years of study following a three-year bachelor’s degree. If you’ve done four years of prior study (with the final year equivalent to a bachelor (honours) degree or a postgraduate diploma) you may be able to complete a master’s degree in one year.

One key feature of taught master’s programmes in New Zealand is that many of them allow someone with a three-year bachelor’s degree to complete a master’s in just 18 months. Some taught master’s programmes are flexible enough that if you continue taking summer school courses over the long summer break you could even complete your degree in 12 months.

Entry requirements, programme structure, and flexibility vary between different universities and programmes, so it’s important to do your research into the particular programme you’re interested in.

Industry links: graduating “work-ready”

When David Bainbridge and his colleagues at the University of Waikato set up the Master of Information Technology as part of a joint initiative with the University of Auckland, their objective was to develop smart, industry-ready graduates who met the demands of the fast-growing technology industry.

“The technology industry was telling the New Zealand government that they could take all the graduates in computer science that were being produced and then they'd like some more please,” says David.

The industry also had a need for well-rounded graduates who were not only technically competent, but could also write reports, give effective presentations and start work equipped with a variety of other skills that are important in business.

In order to better match industry needs and to ensure students are well prepared for their careers, the universities have maintained strong links with industry partners. In the Master of Information Technology programme, coursework focuses on real-world projects, guest speakers from industry are frequently invited onto campus, and students can do an internship as part of their course. The students become good problem-solvers and develop the transferable critical thinking skills that employers around the world are looking for.

Dan Hodgson, Chief Information Officer at Hill Laboratories, is an industry mentor for some of David’s students.

“The taught master’s students are ready to hit the ground running,” he says. “They’re ready to contribute to the business and help drive that business forward. When we’re interviewing for our graduate roles, we most certainly would look for taught master’s.”

Other taught master’s programmes in New Zealand place a similar emphasis creating work-ready graduates. Strong connections with industry are common amongst education providers, and universities also offer career services and extra-curricular programmes to help students get off to a good start in their careers.

If you’re looking for a change in direction, a step up in your career, or to boost your potential with postgraduate study, a taught master’s could be the right move for you.

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Philippa Brown

By Philippa BrownDigital Content Manager

Updated 2 years ago

Philippa is International Digital Content Manager at Education New Zealand. When she's not sharing stories about what it's like to study in New Zealand, you'll find her out exploring in New Zealand's mountains.

*Views expressed are the blogger's own
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