Unusual Masters Courses Worldwide
From popular music to martial arts, Tim Rogers explores some of the most unusual master's programs available around the world.
Internationally, we have, for years now, seen the increase in the more vocational types of postgraduate programmes, particularly at the master's level.
Universities in countries all over the world have expanded the number of dedicated postgraduate qualifications in the fields of management, finance, business and law, in response to student demand and the demands of the global economy.
As wholesale government subsidies reduce for higher education around the world, institutions of all types are having to think, in many cases for the first time, about developing and teaching programs that are both intellectually valid and attractive to students.
In a sector that has traditionally been determined to remain producer driven, this is quite some turnaround to cope with in university academic committees all over the world.
So what is the most unusual master's degree available? With over 250,000 postgraduate programs available in Europe alone, some taught in English, some not, that is an almost impossible question to answer.
Certainly the growth of academic areas such as media and cultural studies have fuelled a whole host of unusual masters degrees in many countries, but these are by no means the only areas where the unusual of five years ago have almost become commonplace today.
Kyung Hee University, one of South Korea’s leading institutions for postgraduate studies, is among the very first in the world to offer academically orientated programmes in such subject areas as Golf Management and Tae Kwon Do.
Located in the School of Physical Education and Sports Science, whose alumni include Lee Woon-jae, Korea’s talismanic goalkeeper during World Cup 2002, the masters degree in Tae Kwon Do seeks to educate students to such a high degree that they develop and become missionaries for their art – Jesuits with a physical education specialism if you like – spreading an appreciation around the world.
With an extensive curriculum designed to build theoretical, physical and spiritual knowledge, the masters’ programme includes modules on competition theory and practice, the history of Tae Kwon Do, biomechanics and advanced Poom-se (black belt) theory.
Choon-hyun Kim, Chief Administrative Coordinator at the Centre for International Exchanges at Kyung Hee University comments that the programme attracts a great deal of interest from international students, particularly those from the USA, who “come to the program to learn about a very Korean subject and enjoy a different cultural experience. Students from overseas can number as many as 200 a year and include various national representative teams.”
Students graduating from the degree go on to pursue a range of careers, but it comes as no surprise that many become leading Tae Kwon Do practitioners all over the world.
Liverpool is home to some of the most famous developments in UK popular culture in recent years. Where would we be without The Beatles and Liverpool Football Club for a start?
The co-location of such compelling international icons and a research-led institution has resulted in some very unusual postgraduate programmes. The University of Liverpool is regarded as a fine academic institution, with active research staff in many areas and excellent teaching staff across its many faculties.
Within the university's Institute of Popular Music, the MA in Popular Music Studies seeks to develop a critical and analytical appreciation of popular music using an interdisciplinary approach, drawing together such areas as textual analysis and semiotics, basic methodological and research techniques, as well specific modules in music policy, music in everyday life and the music industry.
The approach is certainly popular among students, with a growing annual intake and alumni to be found in the record industry and other related fields.
Not to be outdone, a short distance away from Liverpool University is Liverpool John Moores University, home to the International Centre for Digital Content, a centre of excellence for research and teaching in digital games technology and the very popular MA in Digital Games.
With an intake of less than 20 students a year, competition for places is intense and the regard in which this Masters is held by prospective employers all over the world very high indeed.
So what about media and cultural studies? Two much-derided academic areas, media and cultural studies are now fixtures in the postgraduate prospectuses of such august institutions as Princeton, the London School of Economics and the University of Melbourne.
The urban myths related to the study of soap opera and surfing are just that – myths. As a discipline, media studies is important to the development of informed contemporary debate on a wide range of subjects.
According to Dr Nick Couldry, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, “students should study the media because, as virtually all commentators on politics, society and culture agree, media institutions are central to the organisation and presentation of the social world today and we need people going into adult life who have a solid grasp of the complex effects this has on the world is and appears to be”.
Postgraduate programmes available in media are many and varied, from Australia to Singapore. But what better place to study media than in the heart of Hollywood, at the University of California, Los Angeles. Here prospective graduate students in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media can choose programmes as specific as Animation, Production and Direction and Screenwriting to ease their way into a lucrative behind-the-scenes career in the arena of the large or small screen.
Roger Silverstone, author of the 1999 book Why Study the Media? encourages all students to think of media studies as the PPE for the late modern world, “students need to study the media precisely because they need to understand the enormous significance of media as intermediaries in every aspect of our private and public lives.”
Whatever subject a student seeks to pursue at postgraduate level, no matter how obscure, there is bound to be a programme that caters for their interest. Whether a one wants to study close to home or make the increasingly common decision to study overseas, postgraduate study is sure to add something to one’s resume and to one’s intellectual development.
Remember, it’s not all about adding skills to enhance one’s employability – some subjects are just simply interesting. Happy studying!
This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in January 2020