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Masters of the universe

Wednesday January 17, 2007

Chris Alden

As so many overseas postgraduate students are coming to Britain, it might seem like swimming against the tide to do a Master's degree abroad. People come, after all, because Britain is one of the most prestigious places to study in the world.

But the one in 100 Britons who study for a Master's away from Blighty might be on to something. In today's global marketplace, students around the world are discovering that a postgraduate degree in another country can be a way of combining study with the chance to experience a new culture. For many that means coming to Britain, but for the British that means studying abroad.

The right Master's, at the right institution, could help your career. "As more students are pursuing a postgraduate qualification, international experience may be something that will help you stand out a bit more," says Line Verbik, the deputy director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education. "But a Master's from outside the UK or US is worthwhile ? one look at the many world university rankings would tell you that.

"The University of Melbourne comes in at number 15 in the Times rankings," says Stefan Watts. "It's a viable alternative to studying in the UK."

Watts, who runs Study Options, a company recruiting students to New Zealand and Australia, says specific courses are being targeted. "They're doing marine biology at James Cook University, because it's on the Great Barrier Reef,? he says. ?Is there a better place in the world to do it??

But before you pack your snorkel, make sure a Master?s is really right for you. ?A Master?s per se is not going to miraculously change everybody?s career prospects,? says Elspeth Farrar, the director of the careers advisory service at Imperial College London. ?It depends on the subject area and which occupation they want to go on to do.?

When considering studying abroad, preparation is all. Travel, visas, accommodation and funding should be sorted as early as you can.

Ultimately, cost is a primary consideration. Farrar warns that in some countries a Master?s can be ?particularly expensive?. When budgeting, account for the total cost, including the cost of living and visits home.

Degree structures, definitions and term times may also differ from in the UK. In New Zealand the academic year starts in February, while in Japan it starts in April.

Cultural differences are another issue. ?In some continental countries it?s very different,? says Verbik. ?Students are expected to get on with it themselves, and they just have to get used to that.? For those feeling overwhelmed by that prospect, she has some advice: ?Stick at it at least for a month or two, because that?s always the hardest bit.?

Language differences are an opportunity and a challenge. When Leona Tan went to Belgium to study a Master?s in European law, she was taught in French. ?The main thing I was worried about was that my legal French was not going to be up to it,? she says. ?But once I was in at the deep end I learned to swim very quickly.?

?Employers certainly value language skills,? says Farrar, although she warns that you need to be sure you can cope.

However, according to Verbik, European institutions are increasingly offering international Master?s programmes in English, and are ?gearing up for the whole international experience in the support systems that are coming into place?.

That international experience is the key. Watts, who studied in Australia himself, says it is valuable to mix with people from other countries. ?It gives people a lot more than just an education,? he says.

Inspired? If this strikes a chord with you, why don't you share your experiences with other Guardian Abroad readers? Visit our talkboards and spark up a conversation. Or if you're interested in submitting an article, look at our editorial policy to find out how.

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