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MA versus BA

How does a master’s degree weigh against a bachelor’s? Rahat Bano and Gauri Kohli find out if it makes sense to go in for the higher qualification

education Updated: Aug 10, 2011 10:16 IST
Rahat Bano and Gauri Kohli

Did you know that once companies used to pay allowances to employees with postgraduate qualifications? Industries that offered such an allowance included banking, manufacturing etc. But over time, it was found that the extra bucks did not bring any additional value to the individuals as professionals but helped them negotiate salaries. Therefore, this allowance has now been replaced by a benefit, with companies paying for courses relevant to their work.

Businesses have realised the benefits of sending employees for management development programmes aligned to the work they do and derive tangible benefits from such an exercise, elaborates Nina Chatrath of Korn/Ferry International, an executive recruiting firm.

So, where and to what extent does a master’s degree help a job-seeker in his career now? Are postgraduates likely to net a better pay package than mere graduates?
The entry requirements and compensation policies vary from company to company. Whether a master’s tag helps or not depends on the career path. In some places, it’s valued, in others, it’s not. While in certain cases (such as school teaching) it’s a mandatory requirement to get a job and for professional growth, elsewhere it’s hard to say.

At times, what hirers need essentially are people with a particular skill set. A certain international media giant looking to fill editorial positions is searching among University of Delhi’s (DU) history graduates who can ‘read between the lines’ and ‘analyse a situation from different angles’. Publishing houses, on other hand, give preference to the university’s philosophy graduates over others.

According to Seema Parihar, who was the founder chairperson of DU’s Central Placement Cell, a master’s qualification may or may not help you bag a job with a higher pay. “It depends on the job profile or the employer. A lot of companies nowadays prefer graduates who are trainable. They are looking for other skills such as communication, team-building and leadership, besides academic knowledge in the candidates. They can find such candidates in any stream.”

Also, in recent years, a surfeit of postgraduates has altered the scenario in a number of fields where a bachelor’s is still the basic eligibility qualification.

According to Vipul Varma, chairman, Executive Recruiters’ Association, “Today, ordinary graduation is simply not enough. Postgraduation is almost mandatory … Let’s take tourism, for example. If the pool is large enough and there are many applicants with a (PG) diploma in tourism management, I would rather look at the diploma holders.”

However, sometimes a BE is preferred to an MCA, says Varma. According to him, distance-mode programmes are often not looked at favourably. “A lot of employers discount these.”

The salary differential is determined by a host of factors, though at the entry level, the BCom and MBA gap is the most significant, the latter mostly fetching a fatter take-home pay, says Varma.

Shailja Dutt, managing director, Stellar Search, says a master’s in fields including management, manufacturing, journalism and public affairs is “essential to grow”.

An enviable full-time PG credential from a renowned institution can propel you onto the right trajectory while further on it is “completely performance-driven”, she says. “There’s a much higher probability that a good master’s degree will get you a foot in the door in the right organisation in the right role, which ensures your growth because good companies have good processes.”

As far as the streams are concerned, humanities graduates should go for postgraduate degrees to get better jobs (again, however, different rules apply even within the same discipline, because of employer and job demands). English (hons) graduates can think differently. “Every industry has a communication wing which can accommodate a literature graduate,” Parihar adds. When it comes to a subject like history (hons), “if you are opting for competitive exams or the job of a historian, you ought to have in-depth knowledge in the related field,” says Parihar. For those with MCom degrees, industry jobs are fewer. It’s better to go for a PG diploma or MBA in specialised areas after BCom.

In the sciences, a master’s is required for a whole lot of relevant jobs. Industries such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and engineering require specialisation after graduation.

“The career opportunities are greatly enhanced in core and service sectors, including information technology. Further, there are great opportunities in higher education which is reeling under a talent shortage for faculty,” says PB Sharma, VC, Delhi Technological University.

“Postgraduates can also expect a higher pay package in a good industry, consultancy firm, design centre, an R&D organisation and also in an MNC. Usually, a master’s degree holder gets R50,000 to R1 lakh more per annum than a graduate,” he adds. “In 2010-11, all eligible master’s degree holders got very good jobs and approximately 144 bachelors degree holders got two jobs and more.”

Parihar suggests that students should introspect before signing up for a PG course. “One should only go for a master’s degree if they enjoy the subject and intend to stay in the field for a long time. Otherwise, there’s no need to label you.”