Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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Editorial

This is the time of year when a lot of teachers are considering studying an MA by distance learning. The application deadlines for courses starting in April are rapidly approaching. Having been closely involved in researching and representing distance MA courses and giving advice to potential students for many years, it might be helpful for me to point out a few things.

One of the most important things is to distinguish between those courses that have a strong international reputation and those that do not. This is particularly important if you are planning to use an MA to get a job in a different country from the one where the university is based. It is even more important if you may return to your home country with an MA obtained from a university in a different country - for example, if you return to Canada or the US with a distance MA from a British University, it is important to be sure that your MA will be fully recognized. There are quite a lot of advertised MAs that do not have this full international recognition, and some that are even not accredited at all.

Assessing MAs from British Universities

With British MAs, it is important to check the official research ranking and teaching quality assessment of the university faculties that issue the MA. If the faculty has a level '5' for research, it means the faculty has full international recognition. An 'Excellent' ranking for research also means the MA is likely to be very respected.

The only distance MA in TEFL/TESL that is from a faculty that has a '5' for research and an 'Excellent' for teaching quality is the one available through the University of Birmingham. This is why I was so keen to bring this course to Japan many years ago and it is a big reason why it has become the most recognized and popular course of its kind in Japan.

How about MAs for those who don't plan to stay in teaching?

To be honest, MAs in TEFL/TESL or in Applied Linguistics are very useful for those who want to make a career out of teaching English, but not so useful for those who are just planning to teach for a few years. Some years ago I had a number of friends who taught in Japan for a few years and who had good Japanese language skills, but couldn't get good jobs when they returned home. They were asked for paper qualifications to prove their Japanese ability, but most employers had never heard of tests like the Japan Proficiency Test.

This was why I searched for a university that offered MAs in Japanese language and Japanese studies that had the same degree of recognition as the University of Birmingham had in TEFL/TESL At the time, it came down to two universities, the University of Sheffield and SOAS at the University of London. After considerable research, I approached Sheffield and, fortunately, they were very positive about making their MA course available by distance learning in Japan.

The courses have gone from strength to strength over the years and the range of options has increased considerably. There are now specialist MAs in Japanese to English translation, Literature, Economy and Society, Gender Diversity and Citizenship.

It is wonderful to have seen so many people in Japan benefit from these courses over the years, and to know that wherever they go their qualifications will be fully recognized.



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