Should I do a Masters in Corruption?

Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption (CSC), looks at the arguments for and against doing a Masters degree in Corruption at this unusual time of a global pandemic and economic uncertainty.

Sitting at home during the lockdown, I’ve been trying to predict how many students will enrol next year on the Centre for the Study of Corruption’s  three Masters courses.  On the one hand, they are the only courses of their type in the world, and we have had good recruitment in the past (both here at Sussex, and online, and in Doha).  But on the other hand, we are in the midst of a global crisis,  international travel is mainly suspended – most of our students are international – and student numbers are predicted to fall across the board.

If I were making a decision about this right now, for myself, I would have in mind three considerations:
1. Will it be a worthwhile use of a year of my life?
One of the main draws for me to move from running Transparency International to join the Centre for the Study of Corruption was the exceptional quality of the faculty.  Academics need a good combination of communication skills for teaching, and analytical and writing skills for research.  CSC is unusually blessed in the quality of the faculty, and has gathered at Sussex some of the UK’s foremost experts on corruption.  It is the largest concentration of corruption academics in the country, and possibly globally. So as a student on the MA courses, there is a chance to learn from experts.
The courses are also characterised by the varied backgrounds of the students.  As well as a number freshly graduated from Sussex itself, we have students from all around the world, ranging from early- to mid-career professionals.  This year alone we have a serving police officer, a couple of government officials, a senior advocate from Transparency International and an elected official from the US, to mention but a few.  This mixture of faculty and students is highly stimulating; especially when studying one of the world’s most pressing issues.
2. Is it still worth enrolling even if some of the course is not run on campus?
For many Masters courses, the sudden switch to virtual teaching caused by the global lockdown will have been hard, both for students and the teaching faculty.  The CSC already runs a fully-online MA course, which can be taken over the course of several years in single-module bites.  This meant that as a teaching faculty, we have been very aware of the difference between a properly-constructed interactive online course, and simply recording lectures and posting them online.  In consequence, even if teaching does not start again on campus in the autumn, we are as well-equipped as any Masters programme around the world to deliver our courses to the standards we aspire to.

3. Will it help me get a job in a changing world?For undergraduates, the uncertain jobs market for the forseeable future provides a good rationale to do further study.  If the pandemic accelerates the shift into different ways of working and a more tech-driven working environment, those with advanced skills will be better placed.  The varied skills you learn on the Masters course – not simply about corruption – should stand our alumni in good stead.

But most of our Masters students at CSC are professionals already in a career.  What are the prospects if they take a break and study?  The first thing to say is that two of our Masters courses can be followed part-time – the LLM based in Doha, and the fully online ODL course.
For the full-time course on campus, I don’t think anyone can predict with confidence what the job market will look like for corruption specialists in summer 2021.  However, a few things are certain: corruption will remain a problem of both global and national importance – possibly more than ever; there will still be relevant jobs available, in the public sector, private sector and civil society, and those who are well-qualified will be best-place to secure them; and even in ‘non-corruption’ jobs, a thorough understanding of this complex issue may prove to be a valuable asset.
We are living in strange times.  Deciding to do a Masters course, in any subject, can be a big decision even in normal circumstances, especially if it means living abroad or giving up a secure job.  Whether you do the CSC’s Masters courses in corruption full-time, part-time, online or on campus, they are a specialised area.   You will become one of an elite group of academically-trained specialists in corruption.  It is impossible to predict the state of the world or the global economy over the next few years.  But you can be certain that this subject will remain fascinating, and studying it in-depth with some of the world’s experts will be a rewarding experience.

Details of the CSC’s three Masters courses on corruption can be found here

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