But continental Europeans who can operate fluently in two or three languages are shooting to the front of the queue for the prize jobs, leaving their tongue-tied British counterparts behind. Britons wanting to broaden their career horizons across the Channel would be well advised to investigate relevant postgraduate qualifications and swot up on their languages.
According to London University's careers office, the unemployment rate for students with postgraduate qualifications is much lower than among graduates with just their first degrees.
A graduate with a higher degree in European studies will probably be more employable than one without - but students need to choose their courses carefully. An MA in comparative 16th-century European literature might make fascinating study, but is not much use to most employers.
Postgraduate degrees and diplomas under the umbrella of 'European studies' range from highly theoretical courses examining the thoughts of Machiavelli, Marx and Marcuse, to practical, vocationally related qualifications in European law or business administration. A student can do an intensive one-year taught Masters degree or follow a longer research programme leading to an MPhil or PhD.
Languages are a component of some programmes. Unfortunately, languages on their own are not particularly useful unless you want to be a translator, interpreter or tour guide; graduates need to offer something more. Employers say they want people who have a real understanding of different cultures and business practices, and can operate with ease across frontiers.
Reading University's MA in European studies falls into the 'theoretical' category, appraising the history and institutions of modern Europe. Students choose one of three strands: politics, economics or socio-cultural studies. The one-year course, which has been running for almost 20 years, attracts students from around the world. This year's graduates came from Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Scandinavia, Japan, Mexico and the United States, with only six from Britain. (Home students have difficulty in obtaining financial support and many opt to study part time over two years.)
Bradford University offers postgraduate degrees in European studies and ample opportunity for research through the European Briefing Unit, the largest public-sector supplier of information on the single European market.
Exeter University offers a more specialist MA in the economics of the European Community - the only one of its kind in the country. About half the students come from overseas, mainly from EC states.
Employment prospects are good. The majority of graduates from Exeter find work with multinational companies or traineeships with the European Commission and European Parliament. One student was working for IBM in Brussels within a year of graduating.
However, an intensive one-year MA programme leaves little time to improve language competence or spend time abroad.
One alternative is a two-year programme combined with languages, such as the MPhil in European Politics and Society at Oxford University. This programme, now in its second year, hopes to produce the next generation of European leaders, policy-makers and thinkers. The 11 students halfway through their courses - from France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and North America as well as the UK - are academic high-fliers with degrees in international relations, politics, economics, law, history, medicine and the human sciences. This year sees the start of an MJuris course in European law.
The grand scheme is to create an Institute of European Studies at Oxford that will act as an exchange, policy and research centre. It will be networked with other European universities and centres from Maastricht to Moscow, all funded by the European Trust, which is attracting big names and big money. The plan is to bring in other European institutions, including universities in Eastern Europe, so that students will be able to study on a modular basis; for example, one part of the course in Bologna, one in Paris and one in Oxford.
Other universities are one jump ahead. The one-year MSc in European social policy at Bath, launched in 1990, offers training in social policy in a European context. Students spend one term studying in Denmark, one in the Netherlands and one in Bath.
Bournemouth University offers a postgraduate Diploma in European Enterprise Management, which aims to produce management personnel with business skills and languages. The one-year programme is run in partnership with institutions in France, Germany and Spain - 20 students from each country are studying concurrently, spending one term in their native country and two in another country on further study and work experience. They end up with a diploma that is recognised both at home and in the host country.
'The work experience establishes credibility with an employer. In Germany, large companies are used to recruiting well-rounded graduates who have done work experience, whereas in France, where there are more smaller businesses, students need a range of technical skills in areas such as exporting,' says Michael Bond, dean of the Business School. 'We are equipping graduates to work across national boundaries and cultures.'
Students who want to use a higher qualification as a springboard into employment should choose a university or polytechnic with good links in Europe. The University of Kent, for instance, has formal ties with 46 EC universities and colleges, largely funded through the European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (Erasmus), which has its UK headquarters at the university. Erasmus provides top-up grants to enable students to spend time studying abroad.
Kingston University is launching a postgraduate qualification in European property management that aims to train people with a background or first degree in law, construction or surveying. Each student is paired with another from a different EC country, and they are expected to become fluent in each other's languages.
Other qualifications worth considering are in European law, translation and interpreting, combined engineering and language courses, and international marketing. Bournemouth has an MA in European tourism management.
'My advice is not to specialise too much,' says Peter Johnson, human resources manager for Mobil Oil. 'There is a need for languages, and the best opportunities for people with higher qualifications in the area of European studies are likely to be in marketing. If the thrust of the future is in Europe, these degrees will be highly relevant.'
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