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How to fund masters courses

LETTERS

Your summary of the position with regard to this year's masters courses (GE February 2006) is depressingly similar to the situation last year.

As I noted then (GE February 05), it is imperative the geotechnical industry puts its hand in its pocket to ensure it can recruit appropriately qualified staff - the difficulty is how this funding is provided.

I am not keen on sponsoring a course which, at the risk of sounding mean, might not provide me with any suitable recruitment options - but I have no problem with the idea of paying fees for a suitable candidate who is willing to commit to working for my firm for an agreed period after the masters is completed.

Perhaps this is something a representative body such as the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists could look at becoming involved with.

For example, links could be provided on the AGS website to member firms willing to sponsor masters candidates, who could simply get in touch with the firms directly when they are in the process of applying to courses.

Once a company had a suitable quota of candidates for that year, its link would be removed from the website until the following year.

Another approach might be to make contact with potential staff at even earlier stage. As an example, my company has been employing a geology undergraduate, during the holidays, over the three years since he started his degree course.

He has proved an invaluable asset as he has been motivated and eager to learn and in return for some valuable experience has been happy to take on some of the more mundane data-crunching tasks in the office.

He now hopes to continue his studies with a part-time masters which we will be sponsoring.

This has proved an excellent arrangement for both parties and we will be looking for another undergraduate this year to follow a similar route.

One other issue that concerns me and that might be adding to problems with the traditional masters courses is the growth in four-year undergraduate masters courses leading to MSci and Mgeol qualifications.

While these courses undoubtedly have a place, I have found that unless graduates have tailored their studies to my firm's particular field, they are of no more use to us than a BSc graduate who has completed a three-year geology degree.

These graduates are understandably unimpressed when I suggest that for me to employ them they would need to go and do a masters course in geotechnical engineering or similar - even if I am offering to pay for it!

And a final thought: last year we took on two masters graduates, and in so doing spent about £6000 on recruitment agency fees.

In view of the comments in your article about funding of courses, this really does not make very much sense.

Steve Branch, managing director, Geotechnical & Environmental Associates

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