Doing a master's degree abroad

Exploring the benefits of graduate study in another country

British students are increasingly looking overseas for their education. Although UK students are still in a minority, universities across Europe have reported a rise in British applications to their programmes.

Employer incentives

Tim Sowula, a spokesperson for The British Council, thinks that graduates with an international master's degree have an edge when it comes to employment.

"Research consistently tells us that UK and international companies value employees who have international experience and confidence in dealing with people from different cultures."

"A very good way to get that experience is from studying abroad," he says.

Studying in Europe

Fees are a big incentive for those choosing to go to mainland Europe.

Studying in Scandinavia, for instance, is often free for EU citizens and many courses are taught in English - there are around 700 such courses in Sweden alone, for example.

France now has over 300 master's degree courses taught in English, rising from only 11 in 2007, and French universities' fees start at as little as €250 (£216) per year.

The Netherlands is also a popular choice, with world-class educational institutions, the highest number of courses taught in English in continental Europe, and tuition fees of €1,720 on average.

In addition, the European way of studying can also be an attraction.

Will Lobo, a student on his first year of master's degree in Public Policy and Development at the Paris School of Economics (PSE), has found the French way of teaching appealing.

"The approach taken by PSE, and more widely in French higher education, is much closer to the school system than what we recognise as a university education," he says.

"We typically have around 22 hours of contact time per week (which is almost double what I would expect in most top UK economics master's programmes) and the class size is just 20, which makes classes much more interactive.

"I find this combination of lots of contact time and small classes with top researchers to be much more conducive to learning."

Studying in the US

The US appeals to many as an overseas study destination. Although the past couple of years have seen a slight decrease in the number of UK graduate students attending American universities, interest remains high with an increase in those taking college entrance exams. Fees, however, can be prohibitive.

"While actual costs of attendance will vary greatly by university, geographic region and field, the average annual cost of attendance (the total cost of tuition, fees, books, educational supplies, living expenses and other education-related charges) for students in master's degree programs at public intuitions was $28,375 (£18, 700) per year in 2007-08 and $38,665 per year at private universities," says Lauren Welch, a director at the Fulbright Commission, a US-UK educational exchange organisation.

The commission provides help and advice, however, to those considering studying in the US, and also financial assistance programmes, including fellowships and assistantships.

Net gains

Finally, the non-curricular value of an overseas graduate programme can also be a big draw for graduates.

"A student will develop their language skills [and] their networks, gain the confidence to interact with people from different cultures, learn about their subject from the perspective of people from different educational backgrounds," says Tim, "and can discover opportunities that might not be available in their home country."

My experience of studying abroad

Edwin Ip calls himself an "education nomad", having studied in Granada, Montreal, and most recently for a master's degree in economics at the University of Melbourne. Here's his advice for students thinking about following in his footsteps.

Remember your career goals

"This applies whether or not you want to study your master's degree abroad. You can pretty much study whatever you like for your bachelor's, but a master's is an investment and can fix many problems: lack of international experience, poor first degree classification, or lack of business or professional education.

So think of what your particular master's would do to your career alongside how doing it abroad could positively/negatively impact it when you choose a programme."

Keep your options open

"You might think that you'd like to go back to the UK after your master's, but I've seen many people fall in love with a city or country during or after their studies there.

It's also possible that you'll have better opportunities and connections in the country where you study thanks to doing a master's there. So it's a good idea to look at how your specific programme and university have placed international students in the job market and whether your dream employers over there hire international students from your programme."