Choosing Further Study and Professional Qualifications

     
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Should you study for a further or professional qualification? And, if so, which one? This is a question that many of us face at some point during our career in education. Read on for more information on what to consider when making your decision, and how to secure buy-in from your employer.

Benefits

The appeal of studying for a professional qualification might include:

  • Enhancing your employability, making it easier to move jobs.
  • Positioning you for promotion with your present employer.
  • Improving your professional skills, enhancing job satisfaction
  • A chance to train for a new career
  • The opportunity to network with and learn from peers in your own profession
  • Personal development and the chance to stretch yourself

You will need to balance these against the time commitment, and possibly financial costs, of undertaking extra study.

Questions to ask yourself

When making the decision whether to go ahead, ask yourself

  • What are my objectives in undertaking this study? Is taking a further qualification the best way of meeting those objectives? (There may be easier ways!)
  • If you are hoping the qualification will help you into a new career or a promotion then:

How critical is having this qualification to entering this level of job / career area?

Could I do this without the qualification? How many people with this qualification succeed?

Do I need to back up the qualification with particular work experience too?

  • Is this the right time to study for the qualification? Could I choose to do it later on?
  • How feasible is it to study for a qualification given my work, family and other commitments?
  • How supportive is my employer likely to be? 

Types of Professional Qualification

Investigate what kind of qualification people in your field possess and get advice from colleagues on which are most likely to improve your employability. In some professions, there is a single established qualification route; in others you may have a choice:

Qualifications include:

PhD

Critical for professional careers in research and academic departments but unlikely to impact directly on your employability in other fields. Typically taking 3 years to complete full time or 5 years part-time, a PhD is a major commitment and requires serious research.

MBA

A ‘straight’ MBA offered by Business School prepares you for strategic and senior management posts in any organisation – public or private. Open to graduates with at least three years work experience, this appeals to those who want to bring leading ideas from business into HE administration. Most take 3 years via part time or block study. Some HE managers prefer to take a MPA, designed for the public sector, or a MBA specifically focused on the Higher Education sector.

Masters

Masters courses are also offered in many other disciplines – only those which are vocational in nature are likely to have a direct impact on your career progress.

Functional Qualifications

These qualify you to work in a particular management function such as finance (CIMA), Marketing (CIM), HR (CIPD), Purchasing (CIPS) or Library Management (CILIP).Study usually lasts 2-3 years part time and full membership is gained after a further period of Continuing Professional Development. Some bodies offer both a full Diploma for graduates and an initial Certificate level for non-graduates.

Teaching Qualifications

Many HE institutions offer their own qualifications and training in teaching for academics and other staff with teaching responsibilities. Many are accredited by the Higher Education Academy in the UK, who can also direct you to qualification run by FE colleges and other institutions. There is also a CPD route for experienced staff. For staff teaching in FE, the most common qualifications are City and Guilds 7303.

Other Vocational Qualifications

For other areas of work, you may find there are relevant City and Guild or NVQ qualifications available.

Choosing a Provider and Course

When deciding on a particular course consider

Costs

Fees, travel costs and materials. Who is likely to fund these? Does the institution offer bursaries?

Study Method

Face to face, distance learning or a mix? Which suits your learning style and availability? If distance learning, what support is there (tutor, online resources, peer support groups)?

Institution

As well as location and ranking/reputation, consider whether you would prefer to study at your existing institution or to forge new networks outside it.

Student Profile

Who are the typical participants? How much experience will they have? From which sectors are they drawn?

Time

Along with course length, you will want to consider how much teaching and study time is expected.

Assessment

Consider how work is assessed. By examination, assignments, tests or a mix?

Onjob learning

To what extent is the learning applied e.g. will you be able to do projects and assignments with a direct application to your work?

Securing funding and employer support

Investigate early on whether your institution delivers your preferred qualification itself – if so, you are more likely to get employer sign in, time off to study and support. If not, then look at your employer’s policy on support for further/ professional qualifications (this is usually available on your HR website). There may be criteria for accessing financial support or time off, and it is usual for there to be some form of ‘claw back’ if you leave your employer within a certain timeframe after qualifying. Even if your employer does not have a policy or funding formally available, you can still make a case for support.

You will need to put together a business case explaining what benefits your preferred qualification will bring you in enhancing your work performance in your current job, and clearly stating the level of financial support, and time off for study and/or revision, you are looking for. Consider win-win solutions, such as working extra hours at peak times and taking TOIL at study times. Could you afford to reduce your hours slightly?

If your employer cannot offer any support, or you are taking the qualification purely to engineer a career change out of your organisation, then you may have to consider self-funding. Do investigate whether any funding is available via the study institution or professional body. You could also consider a Career Development Loan from a commercial bank if the qualification is likely to lead to enhanced earning potential in future.

Resources

Find out more at:

Higher Education Academy www.heacademy.ac.uk

Find a PhD www.findaphd.com

Prospects www.prospects.ac.uk - search for masters courses and phds

CIMA www.cimaglobal.com – for management accounting

CIPD www.cipd.co.uk – for personnel and development

CILIP www.cilip.org.uk – for library and information work

CIM www.cim.co.uk – for marketing

CIPS www.cips.org – for purchasing and supply

City and Guilds www.cityandguilds.com

NVQs and vocational quals www.nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk

Career Development Loans www.gov.uk/career-development-loans

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