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The Master’s Conundrum - to do or not to do?

  • by Hyper Island Asia

When thinking of a Master’s degree, one might conjure up mental images of grand thousand year old institutions sat on sprawling grounds, its old stone walls covered in creeping ivy, filled with somber professors and high-reaching students.

 Melanie Cook, Managing Director, Hyper Island Asia Pacific Melanie Cook, Managing Director, Hyper Island Asia Pacific

Perhaps a Master’s of any kind seemed like something intimidating, expensive — reserved for the crème de la crème destined for the lofty ranks of the C-suite, or intellectual academics with niche interests.

Almost elusive for the everyday person.

To obtain a Master’s degree, one would have to potentially spend thousands upon thousands of dollars, miles and continents from home.

And experts couldn’t even decide if going for a Master’s degree was beneficial or not  — some insist that a Master’s isn’t worth the cost while others argue that it boosts employability.

But that was the world before a global pandemic. A now-tired saying echoes again and again that we are in the new normal, and that all sectors of work, life and learning have been disrupted.

The same is true here: obtaining a post-grad degree before is not what it is now.

Today, at least from where we stand, the way to a Master’s degree looks a lot less like a monolithic ladder meant to scale alone, and more like a self-built structure that takes multiple hands to build and raise together.

The institutions of higher learning that embrace the future and have adapted from the pandemic will have programmes that are conducted in digitally innovative ways that allow anyone from anywhere in the world to obtain knowledge without having to get on a single aeroplane.

It should be done in ways that harness technology, whilst retaining the core elements of human connection and collaboration.

Often the root problem is that the engagement and completion rates of today’s mass e-learning solutions leave much to be desired. Everyone imagines talking heads and static slides that work for the keen few, but for the reluctant majority, they rarely put their best foot forward.

Yet if we reflect on Nintendo Switch’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, still an incredibly popular game a year on since its debut, everyone has their own way of playing. It’s meditative, therapeutic, and utterly brilliant - a game booted for you to escape into. You can live the island-paradise fantasy in any way that speaks to you.

And against that backdrop, why can’t learning be the same; an escape that learners would willingly throw themselves head-first into. Afterall, if this is the new never normal, we must wonder if a learner’s education will suffer or benefit?

For instance, at Hyper Island, programmes span across online and offline spaces, and most of them require no lectures or professors —both staples of a traditional Master’s programme.

These programmes also emulate a mental playground, where students go through digital escape rooms to learn about growth mindsets, data and teamwork, or murder-mysteries to learn about data, platforms, technology and tools. These encourage creative thinking by creating learning opportunities that include play. 

Students work on live cases set by executives at companies such as Standard Chartered, on the future of wealth banking, or Catapult (a Capitaland company), on the future of work. This mimics environments and situations in the corporate world, therefore directly building acute business acumen and practical skill sets in an environment where failure is not feared.

Neither do graduate school programmes need to be pompous, dreary affairs. Classes are conducted in modern settings, or with modern technological tools that allow people to collaborate effectively; combining tech and play to form a learning experience full of wonderment and curiosity.

The nature of obtaining a Master’s degree is changing into one of ease, agility and accessibility.

But it isn’t just the programmes themselves that are shifting; we are collectively moving towards a vastly different future. One that values deep and genuine learning; one that encourages more time off from work to pursue things out of passion, not obligation; one where a diverse set of skills are valued, as opposed to being siloed in one narrow area of knowledge.

And with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), as a race we should not compete with AI, but instead zero in on what makes us human: emotional intelligence, leadership, acumen, instinct, passion. These are the areas of expertise we must focus on and begin to learn, hone and actualise.

Governments and organisations alike recognise this, and enrolling in a post-grad programme is more affordable than ever, from grants to scholarships to bursaries.

At Hyper Island, our courses and Masters modules are accredited by the Institute of Banking and Finance, so that up to 90% of funding is available to Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs).

In a time where the ground is moving under our feet, individuals should equip themselves with the mindset to lead and drive teams within an ever-changing environment.

All of these things converging -- the pandemic, swift digitalisation, the advent of new technologies, and the shifting of priorities -- have flattened and radicalised many industries in many ways.

It is time that we cast out old notions that a Master’s degree is exclusive to the upper crusts. Instead, we need to accept and embrace that to be human is to reinvent ourselves, over and over again. To search out new skills and sharpen existing expertise, no matter which level you are on.

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