Masters schmasters? Rising fees, methods of learning and general confusion

31 May

CC image courtesy of wwarby via Flickr

As May draws to a close, it’s a scary thought that I’ll be out of a job in 3 months time. My graduate trainee year so far has been an incredible experience that has given me so many professional skills and got me really buzzing for a future career in libraries. So the next step is a masters degree in library and information science…right?

That’s the plan, in fact that’s on the job specification for most graduate trainee job posts – the intention to study for a postgraduate qualification in librarianship. A standard route into the career is by following this plan: graduate trainee year…masters…first professional post and Bob’s your uncle, you’re a librarian! But with some LIS Masters fees rising dramatically in the last year, I find myself asking whether this is still a realistic career path for most people?

When I started applying for library school before Christmas, I (like a completely sane person with absolutely no predilection for Excel whatsoever) created a spreadsheet comparing fees. I’ve now updated this to include most 2012/13 fees for CILIP accredited LIS courses. Please bear in mind this is for guidance only and by no means can I claim it to be exhaustive or even 100% accurate. The figures are the fees for UK students listed on the universities own webpages and I’ve just brought them together with a terrible colour scheme.

What’s interesting is the disparity in costs that some universtities are charging. Courses range from around £4,000 right up to £9,000 for the full-time year, and while some fees have almost doubled since last 2011/12, others have not changed. Why is this? Am I meant to infer that by paying more, I’ll get a better standard of masters? Over the last year I’ve talked to a range of professionals that all emphasised that all that matters is the professional qualification, not where you got it from and how, and every course has its pros and cons.

With fees rising to up to nine grand, this puts the masters way out of the grasp of a lot of people. Funding has been slashed in most cases and instances of employers sponsoring young professionals through qualifying are much rarer than they used to be. Career Development Loans go up to £10,000 (and paying that back would be fairly crippling) but say if I wanted to stay in London to study next year, living in my fairly cheap little room in zone 3, it would cost me around £20,000 for tuition and living expenses. And that’s a pretty conservative estimate. Even studying with a part-time job puts this out of my reach.

I haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to do next year, but a Masters course is beginning to feel like a very expensive hoop to jump through if I want to proceed with my career. I’ve met a number of other graduate trainees over the last 9 months and out of them, only a handful are going to library school next year. Others have already secured plans on different career paths or are putting the Masters off for a few years.

Whilst in some ways I can see why this is might not be a terrible thing – during a recession when jobs are few and far between and the number of applicants for each vacancy is astronomical, the last thing that’s needed is getting a whole bunch of new professionals qualified and fighting for those same jobs. But where does it stop? The problem with fee rises is that once they’re up, they’re not coming down. Are we looking at a future of librarianship where many have been put off becoming professionally qualified and graduate trainees leave the sector because there’s nowhere for them to go?

The great thing about LIS courses is many universities have made a real effort to accomodate all kinds of students by offering part-time and distance learning options. These will almost certainly be what I end up doing (hopefully) and I think it’s great for a student doing a vocational qualification to study and work simultaneously. In my opinion, the future of the postgraduate qualification is going to be just that, a huge drop in the number of full-time students but hopefully those who are really committed to librarianship, with the help of flexible and understanding university courses, can find a way to make it work for them.


7 Responses to “Masters schmasters? Rising fees, methods of learning and general confusion”

  1. Jen Gallagher May 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Fantastic post! I’ve been pondering exactly the same things as you and have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can afford to go straight onto a masters after my trainee year (the one I haven’t even started yet) and I certainly can’t do it full time.

    My plans so far are to put together an application for CILIP Certification towards the end of my trainee year (something I can do because I’ve already been working in an information assistant role for a few years), which will provide evidence of my commitment to CPD, and to start taking some individual distance learning modules that might be relevant to jobs I want to do. Add to this any relevant free/affordable training/conferences/workshops I can go on and I hope this will mean employers will look favourably on me for a few years at least, until I can afford to take the remaining modules and finish the masters.

    Universities all need to start being more flexible and realising that most people can’t afford these massive fees, and if they keep making it difficult for people to study, less people will enter the profession.

  2. Siobhan B (@wigglymittens) May 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    I completed my graduate traineeship in 2009 and was going to start the UCL masters course part time that September, but was offered a job that meant I couldn’t take the day off a week I needed for the course. I worked for a couple of years after that, and eventually found employers who were supportive of me going to library school, and finally started the MA last September.

    When was originally going to do the MA in 2009, the total fee was about £4000, and now it’s gone up to £7k+!! I think you are totallly right about lots of trainees struggling to save enough money for the MA throughout the year. Traineeships tend not to be the best paid jobs, and I certainly had very little cash left over at the end of the month after paying my rent, travel, etc! Doing the MA part time is much more managable way to do it, and although it’s hard work (spend all day working in a library, then go home and write essays about libraries all evening!) being in the workplace can be really helpful in terms of asking people around you for advice, and being able to put the theoretical stuff you learn into practice. From a personal perspective, I also think not going straight from my traineeship to library school was helpful, as I had a broader range of experience to draw on when doing coursework and stuff like that.

    Anyway, sorry for this mini essay, I think your post is great, and it’s made me want to write my own blog post about being a part time student!

    All the best,


  3. Lesley Firth May 31, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi Jen,
    Really interesting post – am I being really dense but why are the London universities charging the most? Surely they appreciate that living in London is more expensive than say Sheffield or Aberdeen and so are not making their courses competitively priced at all.
    If you did want to continue down the qualified librarian route I would definitely recommend part-time/distance learning mixed with almost full time work. That way you are instantly applying the theory you learn to practice. Yes, it takes 1-2 years longer than full time but I think the benefit of working alongside study outweighs the negatives. (I’m completely biased as a PT student!)
    Really hope you are able to follow the path you want to. These ridiculous fees are pricing too many people out of postgraduate education.

  4. Lizzie Atkinson June 1, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Hi, I’m also a graduate trainee. I’ve been lucky and managed to get funding for an MA, but I agree the current situation really does seem unsustainable. It’s a real shame if people are put off the profession because of it.

    If fees keep going up and funding gets cut I wonder how much longer the full-time courses will survive. Like you say, even people willing to take out a career development loan probably won’t be able to afford the fees and living costs. I expect more places are going to start offering distance learning options as that seems a practical and affordable way to complete the masters.

    Perhaps graduate traineeships will start being combined with the masters so they last longer, but are part-time allowing for part-time study too. In some ways that would be a shame though as I think having the one year traineeship as a way for people to make sure it is the career they really want before committing so much time and money to the masters course is really valuable.

    Good luck with your plans for next year!

  5. Jen Laurenson June 1, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Thanks all! It’s good to know I’m not the only one thinking this.

    Jen – I think your plan of doing things bit by bit that are relevant to the job you’re doing or the job you want is great and it’d be great if more courses could cater for people wanting to do that. It’s hard to tell how flexible the distance learning modules are but it is off-putting that you have to pay by the year that way.

    Siobhan – it is scary how much the UCL fees have gone up all of a sudden. I’m living in London for my traineeship and after rent, travel, bills, general living costs I’m lucky if I’m left with 2 coins to rub together at the end of the month. Would be really interested to hear your take on being a part-time student. I’m leaning towards distance learning at the moment but still quite interested in the part-time route.

    Lesley – I have no idea why the London universities have bumped their prices up so much more than the others. Maybe it’s like the opposite of a London living allowance? It’s mad that in the most expensive place to live, they’re making it all the harder. What boggles my mind though is that City has a £2000 difference in the different info studies courses they offer!

    Lizzie – I agree with you, not sure what the take-up of full-time places will be if things remain like this or get worse. Since it is a vocational qualification though, it makes perfect sense to combine working and studying. I hope even more universities do start thinking about providing distance learning options.


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    […] Masters schmasters? Rising fees, methods of learning and general confusion […]

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    […] if the current route into the profession fails us. And Jen has made a spreadsheet – I repeat, she has made a spreadsheet. Share this:TwitterStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

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