With one in 10 of this summer's graduates expected to be unemployed six months after leaving university – a sharp rise on previous years – applications for postgraduate courses have jumped. It seems that recent graduates, frustrated by the toughest jobs market in more than a decade, are taking to heart recent findings from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showing that holders of postgraduate degrees are likely to get higher paid and better jobs than those with only one degree.
UK business schools are reporting a rise in applications from graduates seeking to raise their chances of landing a job; with Masters qualifications that equip students for the modern corporate world proving popular. "People are not finding work, so we find they are coming back into education to improve their employability," says Dr Cheryl Rodgers of the University of Portsmouth, where numbers on the MSc in business and management have almost doubled compared to last year.
This trend is confirmed by Andy Robson, course director at Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University, who reports that the university's suite of business with management Masters is a real "growth area" as graduates in difficult employment sectors, such as law or engineering, seek to boost their credentials and possibly bypass the normal graduate training track. "This programme represents an ideal way to gain a broader management qualification that in turn opens up a wider range of possibilities," says Robson. "It allows them to go back to their original discipline, but potentially to compete for or enter managerial roles in that area."
And it's not just UK students who are paying for an extra year's study. International applications are also up, encouraged by favourable exchange rates and the "gold-standard" reputation of a UK business education. "The Masters education system of the UK is very famous and among the most professional in the world," explains Middlesex student Qiang Fu, 24, from China. "Moreover, it only takes one year for Masters study in the UK, but in my country you spend at least three years. This way I get more time for work experience."
These qualifications are aimed at recent graduates or people moving into managerial roles for the first time. This is the big difference between the Masters and the MBA – the heavyweight qualification that requires entrants to have four or five years of management experience. Some universities pitch the Masters in business management as a pre-MBA qualification. For example, at Newcastle Business School, postgraduates must gain three years' experience after graduating to come back and convert their Masters into an MBA.
The course gives a grounding in modern management theory and practice so that business novices can then enter the workplace with the confidence and skills to hit the ground running. Typical units include the internal workings of a business, such as HR and marketing; external factors, such as understanding customers and competitors; and a perspective on globalisation and international business.
Many universities also offer specialist versions of their business courses, such as business management with HR or finance. This means the programme is general enough to keep options open but the "semi-specialism" gives students a head start in a particular area, be it marketing, finance or human resources. "It depends what you want from your career," says Dr Chris Lewis, director of postgraduate programmes at Birmingham City Business School, which offers an HR, marketing, finance or international specialism as well as the straight degree. "If you're interested in working in the marketing or HR space, then it's a good idea to do a more specialist qualification, especially as you'll do a dissertation in that area that you can then show to an employer."
Business schools report that the cost of these one-year programmes, which range from £3,500 to £6,000 for home and EU students to more than £10,000 for overseas students, pays back relatively quickly once they graduate. Jas Ahmad, principal lecturer in business and management at Middlesex University Business School puts this down to the way a Masters-level qualification develops a student's thinking, making them more attractive to employers. "You find your ability to analyse complexity is far greater," he says. This is echoed by Ara Yeghiazarian, principal lecturer in the faculty of business and law at Kingston University, which runs an MA in business management. "Our students say their ex-colleagues always notice the mental difference and the way our students can approach a problem from different angles."
But a Masters in business management isn't just for those planning to conquer the corporate world. Former fashion retailer Sheila Karsan, now studying at Middlesex University Business School, has academic ambitions instead. "I hope to get more managerial experience, before returning to Middlesex University to study for my PhD," says Karsan, who wants to teach management at college or university level.
'I wanted to develop my knowledge in a short time period'
Padmali Rodrigo, 24, is studying for an MSc in business with management at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University.
"I felt I needed to do a Masters degree to enhance my understanding of business management, in terms of theory and practical aspects.
I already had a good background knowledge of marketing, but realised that you also need a good understanding of other functional areas, such as strategic management, human resource management, finance and operational management.
I picked the MSc because I wanted a programme that could develop my knowledge in all of these functional areas at a reasonable cost and, more importantly, in a short time period. Studying for the MSc is one of the best decisions I've ever made.
The management development residential programme provided a great opportunity to develop my teamworking and leadership potential. I also enjoyed the Business Game, which is one of the core modules of the Masters programme, as it provided me with a practical opportunity to take the role of a senior management team running a car manufacturing business in competition with others.
I'm now determined to further my studies, so I'm planning to do a PhD in marketing at Newcastle soon after I complete my MSc."