Who says businesses hate arts graduates?

The classics could secure you a top job in the City, if you add a business MSc to your CV. By Lucy Hodges
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The Independent Online
Welcome to a new market in British business schools - Masters degrees for people in their 20s who have completed their first degree and want to land a good job in industry or the City.

More graduates with no business background are signing up for the "conversion" degrees in management to make themselves employable and distinguishing themselves from thousands of other graduates pouring on to the job market.

With a Masters, graduates in English literature or history can turn themselves into budding management trainees. During the 1990s, business schools have responded to the demand by setting up one-year Masters degrees in addition to their MBA programmes, which are aimed at people with work experience.

Strathclyde Graduate Business School runs an MSc in business and management for new graduates of any discipline in addition to dozens of specialist Masters courses, including an MSc in business information technology systems. The latter gets people the most amazing jobs, according to Professor Chris Greensted, outgoing dean of the Strathclyde school.

Aston Business School runs Masters courses in business studies and international business as well as more specialised areas, and this October is putting on a Masters in business and information technology course in response to heavy demand. Bath has a popular MSc in management which can be taken with add-ons in strategic information systems, human resource management, marketing, accounting and information systems, and financial management. This autumn Lancaster is launching an MSc in management.

"We have had a fantastic response," says Susan Lucas who runs Lancaster's new course. "Initially we thought 25 students would be a reasonable target but we have been so overwhelmed with applications that we are thinking of increasing numbers to 40 to get a good balance of nationalities and backgrounds."

The MScs are doing wonders for the UK's overseas student market and for business school coffers. More than half of those on Lancaster's new course are expected to come from overseas and pay a fee of pounds 7,500. The rest will come from the UK and other EU countries and pay pounds 5,000.

Bath's MSc in management is now in its third year and the market has boomed, according to Amanda Brook, its external relations manager. It was launched in 1996 with 40 students, and now takes 104. Last year it had five British Council Chevening scholars. Bath charges pounds 4,500 for its Masters, less than most comparable courses and a good deal less than the pounds 7,000 charged by Strathclyde. Like other business schools, Bath found it was receiving a substantial number of applications for its MBA from people without the required three years' work experience. "It seemed crazy to be turning away well-qualified people," says Ms Brook. "Also, we felt it was a good way of ring-fencing the MBA for the more mature and experienced people."

Business schools are recruiting graduates with good degrees on to the Masters courses. At Bath, 70 per cent have a 2(i) or a first class degree. "Some of them didn't really know what they wanted to do but they liked the idea of another year to reflect and focus," says Ms Brook. "What people are saying is that it does that. It makes you a lot better informed. It puts everything in context and gives you a vocabulary and more confidence when you're going through assessment centres and interviews.

"For example, the consultancies use scenario examples or written case studies where you have to give your solution to the problem. They say 'There's no right answer'. But, if you've been used to doing case studies for the past year on your degree, it's going to help, whereas if you've just been studying 17th-century French literature you could be out of your depth."

The Masters differs from an MBA in a number of ways. More time is devoted to the general management core subjects because students don't have business experience. In addition, less time is devoted to practical work. Students are not expected to contribute from experience and interact with lecturers in the same way.

Nevertheless, the MSc students do undertake practical assignments. For example, the marketing MSc students at Bath have to design a marketing plan for a product launch. All have to take classes in business skills and career preparation. That helps students with interviewing and personal development and covers negotiation, problem-solving, teamwork, interviews, delegation, emotional intelligence, communications and working in a multicultural environment.

Initially the university's careers service was sceptical about whether it was a good idea for graduates, who were probably already in debt at the end of their first degree, to spend further money on their education. But they have now been won round, according to Ms Brook, because they have seen how useful a Masters can be for students in securing a good job.

Graduates of Bath's Masters have gone into a range of careers from investment banking and management consultancy to marketing and human resources. Some have been promoted quickly; others have been taken on at a higher level.