Graduates: Far horizons are within reach: Why do so few British graduates choose to work abroad? Philip Schofield reports on the opportunities offered by Europe

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Graduate recruitment activity by continental employers is low and the number of British graduates involved is very small, according to a study completed last year. The study, by the Institute of Manpower Studies (IMS) and the University of Sussex Careers Advisory Service, found that although the number of graduates going to work in Europe had risen over the last four years, they still represented only 1.7 per cent of first degree, and 1.4 per cent of higher degree graduates.

Over half the first degree graduates go into teaching rather than industry and commerce, although substantially more higher degree graduates go to work in business- related positions.

The careers services say the main methods used to get jobs in continental Europe are press advertisements, followed by the careers service, placement while on degree courses, and speculative applications. The study says: 'Those graduates who do secure jobs in continental Europe do so because of their own determination and persistence.

'The number of students interested in working in continental Europe is greater than the number who actually work there . . .

careers advisory services believe the most important barriers facing UK graduates are poor language skills, lack of relevant qualifications, difficulties in finding out about about opportunities, and their relative youth and inexperience.'

The problem of languages is to some extent exaggerated. William Archer, managing director of international graduate recruitment consultancy EMDS, says: 'What most employers are looking for is the ability to work in another language - not to speak it like a native. We describe it as the ability to survive an interview in another language - and more and more British graduates can do this.'

EMDS organise the annual Euromanagers/Eurengineers Forum in Brussels with the support of the Independent. Last year they pre-selected 450 graduates from 6,000 internationally experienced applicants, and invited them to meet representatives of 28 multinational companies. These graduates came, in the main, from 14 countries. Although the British were the fourth-largest group (8 per cent), they were vastly outnumbered by Germans (almost 26 per cent), French (16 per cent) and Belgians (over 13 per cent).

British-based employers were also thin on the ground, although Barclays Bank, BP and Unilever were there. It seems strange that British employers should do so little to recruit graduates from Europe, when an INS survey of nearly 2,000 companies found that over 60 per cent conduct business with people whose first language is not English - predominantly French- and German-speaking countries, followed by Spanish and Italian.

The vast majority of those at the Forum had read business studies/management science or engineering/technology - by far the most favoured disciplines among European employers. Vacancies for 'any discipline' are rare outside the UK. Those wishing to work in mainland Europe will ideally have a vocational degree, combined with work experience and international exposure.

Mr Archer advises: 'Use every opportunity to either study or work in another country. And if you can't do that, then at least find any opportunity to spend time abroad. This will help you to widen your perspective and to begin to get an understanding of the difference in peoples and culture that you find around the Union.

'Any undergraduate, whatever career they are contemplating, needs to think about Europe because the UK is now part of Europe.' He points out that even if you opt to work in Britain, 'your career will be heavily influenced by the wide context of Europe. A few years ago we talked about graduates going to Europe like pioneers. Now every career will be impacted by the European business environment.'

Few British graduates work in Europe, British employers largely ignore it, and we have an image of being bad Europeans. Even so, a survey of the high-flyers at the Euromanagers/Eurengineers Forum found that the most preferred destination for a professional stint abroad was the UK.