There is no doubt that the world is round. Nevertheless, it is getting flatter by the minute! According to Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” globalisation has turned the world into a level playing field in terms of commerce. Not only trade but education too has been influenced by the free movement of capital and people. More and more students today are opting for an international Master’s. Why?

Europe welcomes you

According to a survey by the Europe’s Master’s Portal the internationalisation of the Master’s degree has dramatically increased in the past four decades. Europe seems to be a favourite destination for prospective students – between 2000 and 2009 the number of international students in Europe increased by over 82%. This figure is considerably more than in the US, where growth was just around 49%.

Why this shift? Partly because European MA degrees are cost-effective – it is possible to obtain top-quality education for a very reasonable price. Tuition fees in Europe are generally lower when compared to other continents, even though many European universities are amongst the best in the world. Of course, this differs from country to country and it also depends on whether you are a citizen of Europe (the European Economic Area) or not.

Another precondition for the increasingly pro-European trend amongst Master’s candidates is the fact that the European higher educational standards are now more united. Decades ago the different European states preferred to adhere to their own unique MA requirements. However, more recently the majority of European countries have been working towards harmonizing their programmes and criteria.

The Bologna Accord, also known as the Bologna Process, has marked an attempt to standardize European university systems. It is aimed at facilitating mobility by providing common tools (such as a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System – ECTS and Diploma Supplement) to ensure that periods of study abroad are recognised in the home country.

There are currently 47 participating countries involved – a total of 6,500 higher education institutions and 31 million students. However, despite continued efforts not all countries have managed to overcome the existing differences in their systems of higher education. For example, the Bologna Accord has failed to standardize the definition of one ECTS point. Italy defines one point as 25 hours of study, while Hungary defines it as 30.

Nevertheless, the Bologna Accord has yielded some very positive results. For example, each of the participating countries has adopted two major degrees, the Bachelor’s and the Master’s. A Bachelor’s degree typically requires 180-240 ECTS credits and a Master’s requires an additional 90-120 ECTS credits, depending on the course. Thus, despite the existing differences in some countries, the Master’s degrees from the University of Bologna, the University of Paris and Oxford University today have much more in common.

The economics behind the internationalisation of the Master’s degree

The Master’s degree has been greatly revolutionised and today it is no longer limited within the bounds of one country or one continent. Numerous types of the MA degree are taught in English in more parts of the world and the open market-economy has led to the free movement of students not only in Europe but throughout the world.

The logic is that today’s Master’s degrees are no longer a scholarly embellishment, a title given to the most knowledgeable, confirming their right to teach. (Originally, after attaining the title of Master scholars were obliged to teach in their university for two years.) Gaining a Master’s today means increasing both your intellectual and professional skills while becoming an eligible candidate on an ever evolving job market.

The internationalisation of the degree provides students with more choice. Now they can select a university not only by the quality of the education on offer but also by how applicable this education will be upon graduation. Therefore, those who wish to start a career in the car-industry or the technology sector can now safely pursue a Master’s taught in English in Hong Kong, one of the world’s fastest growing regions.

Today universities worldwide are offering a variety of specialized Master’s degrees aimed at students who wish to enter a particular field directly after graduation or who want to enhance their professional credentials They are increasingly being designed with explicit input from industry and professional organisations. In fact, the emergence of multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary programmes has been identified as one of the most significant changes in Master’s education in the international context.

These programmes reflect the growing need for students with multiple competencies and diversified knowledge. While it is true that many Master’s programmes narrow their focus to a very particular specialisation, graduates of these programmes are expected to have, in addition to their technical knowledge, strong professional competencies and research-based skills. In traditionally research-oriented programmes, emphasis is placed on professional development, ethics and other non-technical courses, while professional and vocational programmes are increasingly likely to include research training.

You should also bear in mind that although Master’s degrees taught in English around the world have much in common in terms of their interdisciplinary approach and practicality, there are also differences which might eventually tip the balance in favour of one university of another, one continent or other. For example, when you enroll in a taught Master’s fulldegree programme in Europe, you will be taught over three terms (spending the third term writing a small thesis); you will take intense and demanding classes with heavy coursework, and complete your degree in a single year (in the UK and many European countries, the college term runs from September to the next September).

In the US it typically takes students two years to complete a Master’s degree, hence coursework may prove to be more slow-paced and less overwhelming. It’s your choice.