Raise your game by going to the Continent

Why don’t more cash-strapped graduates choose to study in Europe?

Studying abroad is a popular choice for undergraduates who, through international exchanges, are experiencing the benefits of living in another country in increasing numbers. Yet the number of British students choosing postgraduate study abroad remains relatively small. According to the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, only 4 to 5 per cent of UK graduates who go on to do further study choose do to so abroad.

The launch of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in March may go some way towards changing this. The creation of the EHEA was the overarching aim of the Bologna process, a Council of Europe initiative to increase the mobility of students, graduates and staff within its 47 member countries. It is hoped the introduction of a standardised three-part degree structure (Bachelor, Masters and Doctorate) across the Continent will make movement across borders easier. With tuition fees in mainland Europe a fraction of those in the UK, it could become an increasingly attractive option for cash-strapped graduates.

Simon Burns, 21, is a British student who has already made the leap across the Channel. After studying politics at Liverpool, he decided to take a Masters in EU politics and administration at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, which he started last September.

“Studying here is not that different from studying in England,” he says. “In the first few months, when everything was new and a bit difficult, being in class was a safe haven because it was a familiar environment. But the teaching style here is a little different, because it relies more on problem-based learning, which encourages independent study.”

The course, like most Masters degrees aimed at international students on the Continent, is taught in English. “It’s really international,” says Burns. “I can’t think of a European nationality that isn’t represented on my course. But the common language is English, so I don’t have any problems with communication.”

In common with many students who choose to study abroad, the idea of learning a language was a motivating factor. However, Burns has found the widespread knowledge of English in Maastricht, within the university and outside it, has hindered his attempt to learn Dutch. “I intended to learn some Dutch, but it didn’t really work out,” he admits. “The Dutch are so proud of speaking really good English that I’ve given up.”

The potential difficulty in learning a new language when the default language is English should be taken into account when weighing up the pros and cons of studying abroad. Saiyada Smith, a careers adviser at the University of London, says: “You need to ask yourself: ‘What do you think you will get out of studying in Europe that you won’t get studying in the UK?’

“We have had mixed feedback from students. Some have come back feeling very positive, and have enjoyed the challenge of living in another country. But it can be hard to adapt to new surroundings, and, although mainland Europe is only a few hours away, there can be big differences in culture.”

Smith notes that postgraduates who return to the UK after studying abroad can face additional problems. “Some return and experience reverse culture shock – they find their friends and family support network has changed while they’ve been away,” she says. “And some have struggled to find jobs when they return to the UK, as they feel out of step with the UK job market. So if you do decide to go away, it’s important to look at ways of maintaining your contacts.”

But for students intending to pursue international careers, or careers within a firm or institution with international ties, having done a postgraduate degree abroad can be an advantage.

“The feedback we get from employers is positive if the skills you have gained are relevant,” says Smith. “If an employer needs people who understand a particular culture or language, having studied abroad can really be seen as a bonus, a way of selling yourself.

“You should selectively target employers, and ensure that your cover letter and CV show the skills you’ve gained from the experience.”

Burns believes the experience of living and studying in an international environment will help his future career prospects. “At the end of the course, pretty much everyone migrates to Brussels,” he says. “I’m hoping to get an internship there when my course finishes this summer, and I think this will have been good training for it. Studying abroad, away from your family and friends, takes away your mental safety net. It forces you to become more independent.”

Having added up the possible advantages and disadvantages, what do you do if you decide a postgraduate degree in mainland Europe is a good idea? Research, says Smith. The Times’ Higher Education World University Rankings is a useful comparison tool, as the standard of European institutions varies widely.

Several resources provide country-specific information, with details of courses and available funding. FunderFinder ( funderfinder.org.uk ), a database of funding opportunities, is worth checking out. Useful websites for prospective postgraduates include prospects.ac.uk , eurograduate.com and ibe.unesco.org , while contacting the admissions offices of individual institutions is also a good way to find information about scholarships, funds and grants.

But before you start hunting for your passport, Howard Green, from consultancy Postgraduate Directions, has a word of warning. “With an academic Masters, as with a PhD, you want to go where the best research is. Unless the subject you want to study is particularly well covered by the institution – for example, nuclear engineering in Grenoble – you wouldn’t want to study in mainland Europe. The reputation and quality of UK institutions is much higher, and we don’t bang that drum hard enough.”

For Burns, however, the decision to study in Europe was the right one. “I would definitely recommend it,” he says. “It was hard at first, but it has been a good experience overall.”

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
General Election
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Guru Careers: Marketing Compliance Assistant

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Compliance Assistant to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders