Business and management degrees are popular university courses because they open doors to more careers than other undergraduate degrees. Graduates are recruited directly into industry and commerce. The route into work for graduates with arts degrees or more general degrees is often an expensive master’s degree.
Major employers such as PWC and Ernst and Young take business studies graduates from highly-rated business schools because their graduates have experience of work and know about finance and strategy. Many business degrees offer a year in industry as part of a four-year course and all degrees include some form of work placement.
Amrit Nahbubani, 25, who studied accounting and finance at Warwick University’s business school, was offered a job at Ernst and Young after he completed his year in industry with the company. Three years after graduating, he is earning £45,000 as an assurance executive with Ernst and Young.
James Pemberton, 21, who is studying business studies with industrial placement at Lancaster University’s business school, spent a year working at Olswang, an international law firm in London.
“It was a useful experience. I was able to put what I had learned into context,” he said.
Professor Simon Collison, chair of the Chartered Association of Business Schools and dean of Birmingham University’s business school, believes undergraduates studying business are very career-minded.
“I don’t mean they all want to work in the City. It is not about money. A recent trend is undergraduates wanting to be social entrepreneurs. But they know what they want to do in their career,” he said.
“Courses can be configured in order that students can target particular careers. Students all have to do project work. That leads to many career opportunities. Starting salaries average around £28,000.”
Business degrees attract male and female students in roughly equal numbers, but there is gender gap in specialist subjects with more females taking marketing, and more males doing finance and business strategy.
The world's top 10 universities
The world's top 10 universities
1/10 1. Harvard University (USA)
2/10 2. Stanford University (USA)
3/10 3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)
4/10 4. University of Cambridge (UK)
5/10 5. University of Oxford (UK)
6/10 6. Columbia University (USA)
7/10 7. University of California, Berkeley (USA)
8/10 8. University of Chicago (USA)
9/10 9. Princeton University (USA)
10/10 10. Cornell University (USA)
Highly-rated courses require A grades at A-level. Warwick University’s business school, near the top of the league table, takes around 600 students a year and requires three As at A-level. It offers degrees in accounting and finance, international business, managemen, international management, and information systems management and innovation.
Business degrees can done as joint honours, combined with languages, law or even engineering.
Paul Szimikwicz, 35, who did a business and languages degree at Birmingham’s business school, spent a year studying business in a university in Verona. He is now head of ring-fenced banking at HSBC.
“I think a business degree gave me an edge. I had done a full business case for setting up a new business as part of my degree. I didn’t feel out of my depth,” he said.
“I knew I liked the people aspect of work and that led to me retail banking.”
Courses in business studies cover the basics in the first year: economics, marketing, company systems, accounting and human resources. Students can then choose from a broad range of modules.
“It is a flexible degree,” said Louise Briggs, head of careers at Lancaster.
“After the first year, students specialise in the areas they want to work in. It might be management science or finance. They can have a degree that suits them. They learn transferable skills. Some of our courses include a year working abroad.”
Business studies graduates are more likely to be employed three months after graduating than other graduates. That is partly because business schools work closely with companies and partly because companies view graduates as being motivated to work in particular business areas. Birmingham’s business school works with 60 companies.
Sara Harthill, 23, chose Birmingham’s business school because she was confident it would support her entrepreneurial ambitions. “The course is well-rounded. The lecturers are willing to let you play to your strengths. I was doing media work at the same time as my degree,” she said.
Harthill now works for a property investment company, Inspired Asset Management, doing marketing and asset development. At weekends, she does freelance journalism broadcasting (she voices the Emirates Airlines chart show and does red carpet interviews for OK! Magazine)
Deloitte’s head of student recruitment Rob Fryer said business studies graduates have a head start because they are clearly motivated to work in business.
“We recruit in large numbers from business schools, but 40 per cent of the graduates we recruit have what are termed 'non-relevant degrees'. They may have studied history of English or a non-relevant science.
“We like to have a mix. The graduates we look for have a good academic record,” he said.
Emma Williams, 22, had been offered a job before she graduated. She is an internal communications consultant at Capgemini, an international management consultancy. The job offer came after Williams had done a placement with the company as part of her business and communications degree.
Birmingham University’s business school, where Williams did her degree, works in partnership with Capgemini and other companies.
“I had to take a day off to go the graduation ceremony because I had started as soon as my course finished,” she said. “The university’s relationship with the company was the key to my getting the job.”
Each year, 25 students do the Capgemini community challenge. They have to design, deliver and present solutions to local charities to help them with anything from website design, database creation, marketing and fund-raising. A number of placements with Capgemini are offered to students that have done the challenge.
Birmingham University and Capgemini have been short-listed for an award sponsored by Unitemps for the best collaboration between a university and employer.
Williams’ main work is reporting business news for employees across the company. “At the moment I am developing my skills with senior consultants. When I am more experienced, I may move to external communications. I did a module on external communications as part of my degree and found it interesting.”
Her degree included a range of modules. “It was very broad. It included marketing, finance and strategy. I was keen to do a degree that kept my options open,” said Williams.