The world is waiting for you

Studying for a second degree doesn't have to mean dark libraries and rainswept campuses: you can go abroad
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The Independent Online

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." If you're looking for a justification for leaving British shores behind to further your studies, you could do worse than quoting this simple view of life from the fourth-century Saint Augustine. His travels, on a journey of religious and personal exploration, took him around the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Your horizons can stretch even further. There are plenty of UK-based organisations offering avenues to postgraduate study across the globe. None, though, guarantees sainthood to augment the academic qualification.

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." If you're looking for a justification for leaving British shores behind to further your studies, you could do worse than quoting this simple view of life from the fourth-century Saint Augustine. His travels, on a journey of religious and personal exploration, took him around the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Your horizons can stretch even further. There are plenty of UK-based organisations offering avenues to postgraduate study across the globe. None, though, guarantees sainthood to augment the academic qualification.

Among the most popular destinations is Australia, all 40 of whose universities have combined to form IDP Education Australia, which assists people looking to study Down Under. The London office helps about 150 British students a year undertake postgraduate work at universities from Sydney to Perth and, in one or two cases, at the Alice Springs campus of Charles Darwin University. "We see it as part of the overall promotion of Australia as a study destination and a means to promote global understanding," says Dee Roach, the head of IDP's UK and Ireland operation.

The advantage of going through IDP is that it offers free advice to help find the right course and location for individuals, rather than trying to steer anyone to a particular university. It also helps students identify and apply for the various scholarships and funding sources on offer, which will go some way towards paying the fees, which, in Australia, start at a minimum of £4,500.

Liz Wood, from Leicester, came across IDP at a graduate recruitment fair in Manchester. She's doing a one-year graduate diploma in human-resource management and industrial relations at Griffith University in Brisbane. "The teaching methods are the same as in the UK, which is a blessing as far as writing assignments goes," she says. She has a heavy workload but envisages having time to travel extensively around Australia during the year.

Generally, the transition from a first degree in the UK to postgraduate study in Australia is smooth. And the proximity of the Asia Pacific region, with its wealth of economic and cultural aspects, adds a further dimension for the European visitor.

Another route well trodden by British postgraduates is across the Atlantic, and there are at least 60 US universities with offices in London that can handle the initial inquiries. A good first port of call is the UK arm of the Association of American Study Abroad Programmes ( www.aasapuk.org), which acts as an umbrella organisation for US universities with bases here. An area attracting more students than most is Boston. With Harvard, MIT, and Boston University (BU) leading the field, the New England capital has a student population of 300,000. "We like to think of ourselves as the university town of the world," says Bill Straughn, from BU's London office. He reports widespread interest among UK graduates in furthering their studies in the US, but says the stumbling block is sometimes the cost of American education. "Most applicants need to find scholarship funding from somewhere, and their chances are greatest if they have a significant PhD research interest."

Access to those positions is intensely competitive and generally confined to those with excellent qualifications. A first-class degree helps. Of BU's 15,000 postgraduate students, 4,500 are from outside the US, among them many from the UK. Dr Urbain Dewinter, the assistant provost in charge of international programmes, says Boston University welcomes and encourages students from outside the States. Departments with a history of accepting British graduates include the natural sciences, business, the humanities and law.

Canada, too, has a wealth of opportunities, and an initial search can start at the website of the Association of Commonwealth Universities ( www.acu.ac.uk), which has links with 500 English-language universities in the Commonwealth. The University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, for example, has 72 Brits on Masters or PhD programmes, among them Louisa Wood from Cheshire. After getting a first in zoology at Cambridge, and doing a Masters in tropical coastal management at Newcastle, she was accepted on to a PhD programme at UBC's Fisheries Centre, where she's developing the world's first spatially explicit database of marine protected areas. She's effusive in her enthusiasm for the UBC experience, which, for her, has underlined the virtues of moving outside the UK. "I believe that successfully graduating from different educational systems greatly enhances employability, research skills and academic networking," she says.

If you don't fancy breaking your ties completely with home, you could do part of your UK-based postgraduate course at an institution in Europe. The Socrates-Erasmus programme, funded by the European Commission, is best known for co-ordinating undergraduate exchanges within EU countries, but it also supports postgraduates spending up to a year at a European university partnered with their home base.

Natasha Meade, 22, is at the (coincidentally titled) Erasmus University in Rotterdam, doing the first part of a Masters in law and economics, having completed her first degree in business economics and business law at Portsmouth University. She's due to do one term in Rotterdam and one at Ghent University in Belgium, before returning to Manchester University to complete her Masters next summer. "It's been really good in Rotterdam," she enthuses, "studying with people from all over Europe and seeing different perspectives when we have group discussions." The course is taught in English, and Meade says her grant - €750 (£520) per term - was the easiest she's ever applied for in her life.

More than 300 British postgraduates a year take the Erasmus route, in most cases exploiting established links at faculty or department level between the two universities. "We try to ensure that the modules taken are relevant to the home-based degree and avoid the possibility of the student attending random, unconnected courses," explains Sue Hopkinson, at the UK end of the programme. Exact funding varies, but on average last year students received at least €230 (£160) a month. There are generally no tuition fees.

Also doing Erasmus-funded postgrad studies is Joanna Bending, who's spending three months researching archaeological elements of North Atlantic islands, at the University of Umea in Sweden. Umea has established links with Sheffield University, where she's doing her PhD. On top of the academic reasons for doing field and laboratory work in northern Sweden, Bending has another persuasive argument for going abroad. "The opportunity to get some money to spend three months in a place I'd probably never visit otherwise was just too good to pass up," she says.

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