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Hospitality degrees: Ringing in a better future

Hospitality is growing fast and there are several courses available in the sector
  • @davidcrookes

Everyone has to eat and drink and, even though the UK is feeling the bite of a restricted economy, both the eating out and hospitality sectors are seeing major growth. There are currently 260,000 establishments within this industry across the UK, each helping to boost local employment. More are being opened every month.

What's more, many major companies in the hospitality industry, from Hilton Wordwide and Accord to Whitbread and De Vere have recently announced significant numbers of new jobs based in the UK.

Despite a survey by online restaurant marketing service livebookings.com, which found that 43 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 wouldn't consider a career in hospitality, such a negative perception of the sector has not put off the thousands of people who wish to gain employment in hospitality management.

And, as Philippe Rossiter, the chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality points out, that actually means that 57 per cent of young people would consider working in hospitality, a sector that accounts for eight per cent of the UK's total employment.

To cater for such ambition, many universities offer postgraduate courses in hospitality management, helping young people to gain employment in a wide range of areas. "Hospitality management study provides a focus on management of hospitality operations including hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, amusements parks, destination marketing organisations, convention centres, country clubs and many other related industries," says Steve Burns, leader for Liverpool John Moores University's MA group of Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality programmes. Recent employers of postgraduate students also include airlines and airports, tour operators, a variety of charities and music festivals both at home and overseas.

There are two main reasons why someone should consider a postgraduate course in hospitality. Firstly, it increases students' prospects in the employment market, since the global rise of tourism has led to a significant increase in related undergraduate courses. A postgraduate qualification gives students a stronger opportunity of employment.

Secondly, hospitality management courses focus on developing as a manager. "There is huge growth in the need for tourism and hospitality managers globally and our postgraduate students are better prepared at tackling management issues which they may face in their professional careers," says Mr Burns. Typically a course will entail students being given the skills and understanding to tackle Masters-level study. They will discuss key issues in hospitality management and research in classes as well as complete a dissertation.

"Study of hospitality management at postgraduate level tends to focus on managing hospitality firms, rather than individual operations such as an hotel or restaurant," says Peter Jones, professor in hospitality management at the University of Surrey. "This means understanding how global hotel and restaurant chains seek to gain competitive advantage through their operations, marketing, human resources, finance and strategy. A typical Masters will also provide the opportunity to study more specialised areas such as asset management and revenue management as well as researching a hospitality topic in some depth for the Masters thesis."

Studying hospitality also opens up global opportunities. International hospitality and event management is a very popular course for postgraduates at the University of Central Lancashire. Dr Martine C Middleton, its MSc/MA course leader in international tourism, hospitality and event management, says the discipline of hospitality and event management at Masters level is becoming a very attractive, versatile and transferable qualification, recognised across the globe.

She says postgraduate courses are either "taught" or "research"- orientated. Taught courses are the norm and require commitment, motivation, self-discipline and effective time management by students. Students are expected to attend lectures and seminars and generally comply to a modular based system. This comprises of three modules per semester and a written dissertation, which add up to nine modules taken throughout the year.

"Hospitality and event management appeals to students of all origins and provides a licence to work in numerous fields across the service sector. It's this versatility whereby students can still study yet retain a broad range of career opportunities that appeals to many. It's an investment in a student's future."

When a postgraduate course is complete, most students will enter the industry on a graduate management training scheme or in a junior management position. Much of this depends on their previous experience of the industry.

Within 12 to 18 months, these new entrants tend to be promoted to a more senior role. On the whole, postgraduates find their careers develop relatively speedily. "Some graduates may choose to generalise and work in a variety of functions, with the eventual aim of becoming a senior operations manager at a national, regional, or global level within a major chain," says Professor Jones. "But many will specialise and become marketing, human resource or finance managers."

Mature student Amanda Payne, returned to education after 14 years to complete an MSc under Dr Middleton at the University of Central Lancashire. She's now working towards a PGCE and she eventually aims to go on to study for a PhD.

"The MSc helped to develop my professional and managerial skills," she says. "This is vital today as many employers now expect not just specialist knowledge of a subject, but also a broader perspective of the business environment."

Whilst her research dissertation was unnerving at first, it quickly became one of the most enjoyable parts of the course, adds Payne. "We were given constant support and encouragement from the start, and the day I handed the research in was one of the proudest days of my life."

There are dozens of courses in hospitality at Masters level listed on university review website whatuni.com, taking in establishments as far afield as Bournemouth, West of Scotland, Northampton, Brighton, Derby, Leeds Metropolitan, Gloucestershire, Central Lancashire, Liverpool John Moores, Sheffield Hallam and Manchester Metropolitan universities. There are also many higher education colleges offering such courses.