This project aimed to explore the defining facets of Masters level study, asking questions such as:  ‘What does it mean to be a Masters level student, and how are they supported in making that transition?’


Outputs from this project:

  • A discussion paper on ‘Mastersness’ - What is Mastersness?
  • A toolkit, based on the Viewpoints methodology, used to aid discussion in workshops, held throughout the Scottish higher education sector
  • 25 international, UK and Scottish case studies
  • A thematic overview of the case studies (Pointers for Practice).

Facets of Mastersness: a framework for Master’s level study


This project developed a framework to help make sense of some of the different dimensions of ‘Mastersness’, adapted from Susan Warring's analysis of learning levels between qualifications.


We based the framework on seven ‘facets’ designed to help practitioners conceptualise, develop, and enhance their Master’s level provision.  Each facet is an aspect or characteristic of the learning process that underpins the concept of ‘Mastersness’.


Definitive statements for each facet

  • Abstraction – Extracting knowledge or meanings from sources, and then using these to construct new knowledge or meanings
  • Depth (of Learning) – Acquiring more knowledge and using knowledge differently.  For example, engaging in a narrow topic in depth, engaging in up-to-date research, or taking a multidisciplinary approach and examining something familiar and presenting it in a new innovative way
  • Research and enquiry – Developing critical research and enquiry skills and attributes
  • Complexity – Recognising and dealing with complexity of knowledge (including the integration of knowledge and skills, application of knowledge in practice), conceptual complexity, and the complexity of the learning process
  • Autonomy – Taking responsibility for own learning in terms of self-organisation, motivation, location and acquisition of knowledge
  • Unpredictability – Dealing with unpredictability in operational contexts – recognising that 'real world' problems are by their nature 'messy' and complex, and being creative with the use of knowledge and experience to solve these problems
  • Professionalism – Displaying appropriate professional attitudes, behaviour and values in whatever discipline/occupational area chosen (from academic to occupational subjects), including learning ethical behaviours, developing academic integrity, dealing with challenges to professionalism, recognising the need to reflect on practice and becoming part of a discipline/occupational community.

The Masterness toolkit


The Masterness toolkit helps aid discussions and debate between those involved in the postgraduate student experience about the nature of Master's level study. It is designed to be as fluid as possible – there is no 'right’ way to use it. We would encourage people to develop and refine it, and use it in any way they think would be helpful. The toolkit comprises a set of eight cards. Each describes and defines a facet of Master's level study, and gives examples of learning and teaching practices designed to develop that facet.


Toolkit handbook and cards


Mastersness Toolkit Handbook

Publication Date: 15 Aug 2014

This mastersness handbook has been produced to support the use of the Mastersness toolkit cards which was developed as part of the work of the Learning from International Practice: the postgraduate student experience project. 

Document Details
Author: QAA Scotland
Format: PDF
Size: 277 KB

Masterness Toolkit Cards

Publication Date: 15 Aug 2014

The Mastersness toolkit comprises a set of eight cards. Each describes and defines a facet of Master's level study, and gives examples of learning and teaching practices designed to develop that facet. The cards should be used with the Toolkit handbook. 

Document Details
Author: QAA Scotland
Format: PDF
Size: 1119 KB

Related resources


Background Paper - What is Mastersness?

Publication Date: 15 Aug 2014

This paper is one of the outcomes from the SHEEC project 'Learning from International Practice: The Postgraduate Taught Student Experience' examines the concept of "Mastersness".

Document Details
Author: QAA Scotland
Format: PDF
Size: 724 KB

Transitions to Master's level study - Pointers for practice

Publication Date: 15 Aug 2014

This paper gives an insight into how real academics are tackling PGT learning and teaching and an overview of the main practice and initiatives described in the Masterness case studies.   

Document Details
Author: QAA Scotland
Format: PDF
Size: 359 KB

Transition to Master's level study - Collection of case studies

Publication Date: 15 Aug 2014

This collection of international, UK and Scottish case studies illustrate practices developed, adopted and used by higher education institutions around the world to help their students reach master’s level. 

Document Details
Author: QAA Scotland
Format: PDF
Size: 1128 KB