New research reveals that master’s-level education is welcomed by CIPD students. However, there may be a tendency for students to have overly high expectations post-qualification.
The Department of Human Resource Management at the University of Strathclyde has recently begun longitudinal research into the expectations, attitudes and experiences of its MSc HRM students as they progress through study to become HR practitioners.
The first part of the study focused on students during their CIPD-accredited course, and their expectations for the future; the second part of the study aims to return to the students after their first eight months of employment, to see how expectations tally with reality. This research forum reports on the findings of the first part of the study.
First results indicate that the students undertake postgraduate study as part of positive career choice rather than to fill time until something else comes along. More than 80 per cent of the students undertook study because they wanted to develop a career in HRM. Students believed that having an MSc in HRM was the most important factor in obtaining a job in HRM and, subsequently, for a successful career in the profession. Importantly, students strongly want to work in HR after graduation and to continue to do so throughout their working lives.
In selecting where to study, CIPD accreditation of the course and Strathclyde’s Centre of Excellence status, combined, were the single most important factor for students starting in 2005 and the second most important factor for students in 2006. Further analysis highlighted that CIPD accreditation was perceived as especially important to British students – almost 50 per cent cited it as the most important factor over both years. CIPD research conducted by Tamkin et al (2006) into the careers of HR professionals highlights that many find it difficult to get a job as an HR adviser because employers ask for two years’ experience plus a CIPD qualification. Obtaining accreditation removes one of these barriers.
Although students were committed to a career in HR as their study finished, there were variations in what they believed their first job and starting salary would be. The most popularly stated job in both years was HR assistant, but many believed they would start as a graduate trainee, HR officer or HR manager. Predicted starting salaries ranged from £12,000-£35,000. The CIPD research suggests that those entering HR careers, even with a degree and CIPD accreditation, spend some time doing “mundane work”. Many of the optimists may therefore be disappointed.
The next phase of the research – analysing practice – is about to start, with the first cohort now eight months into employment. Analysis will shift to focus on the relevance of their study to practice and whether that strong commitment to HRM continues as their careers develop.

Key points
• Our research shows students undertake postgraduate study as part of positive career choice, with 80 per cent wanting to develop a career in HRM.
• CIPD course accreditation was the most important factor for students when choosing their course.
• Students strongly wanted to work in HR throughout their working lives.
• However, optimism for the level of starting job and salary may not match reality.