In today’s highly competitive tertiary education sector, comparatively small institutions like the ANU, the smallest of the group of eight universities, are constantly pushed to innovate and differentiate themselves in order to secure a greater slice of the student enrolment pie. Following the ANU’s introduction in 2012 of flexible combined degrees at the undergraduate level, and the commencement in 2013 of vertical double degrees that combine a bachelor and masters degree, the ANU is now canvassing the idea of offering double masters programs. The ANU recently commissioned market research to explore the feasibility of offering double masters programs that, like double undergraduate degrees, would entail completing two masters qualifications in a shortened period of time, somewhere between 2-3 years.
Combined programs like this are currently offered in other universities within Australia such as Griffith University, La Trobe, the University of South Australia, and Monash, but are restricted to only combining masters in fields such as business, management, marketing, or accounting. In contrast, the ANU is proposing either a fixed list of combined masters from a wide array of disciplines including Engineering and IT, Law and Global Policy, Public Health and Public Policy, Digital Media and Marketing; or, more experimentally, opening up all masters for combination depending on what students wish to study. Students involved in the market research reported that the ANU was exploring all these options, including the possibility of starting with fixed combinations and moving to a more flexible system as they did with undergraduate combined degrees.
Also up for debate is whether to offer masters with one generalist component, like managing or marketing, matched with a more specific component, such as software design; or whether to let graduates mix two technical specializations together. The mode of delivery too remains undecided, although it was suggested that it could take one, or a mixture of, four forms: full time, part time, online, or intensive blocks.
Introducing double masters programs at the ANU would undoubtedly shake-up the Australian higher education sector and excite prospective masters students. A double masters presents a new way to ‘get ahead’ academically and improve employment prospects in the ever-shrinking job market. Students get more bang for their buck, reducing the cost of two masters and the time spent at university. Yet by streamlining two masters into one shorter program, it must be asked if students will miss out on the requisite depth and expertise expected of two masters qualifications.
There are also concerns that double masters represents another step in what seems to be a continual ‘one upping’ and resultant devaluation of university qualifications. Already, many students feel that a single undergraduate degree is worthless when compared to a combined undergraduate degree. Moreover, in many areas, it is a common belief that any undergraduate degree is wasted without masters. One can only wonder if the introduction of double masters will make studying single masters appear redundant, compelling students to fork out ever increasing sums of money (with little university support) for more educational qualifications. For employers and students alike, will it soon become a question of double masters or nothing?