The current economic turmoil is, ironically, a catalyst for prospective students to consider carefully their choices for the future. But with so many programmes out there to choose from, how can potential masters students make an informed choice? Sarah Hawkin, Managing Director of the new website Mastersranking.com, offers some answers.
"The difference between programmes that fall under the banner of 'masters' is enormous, and it's very easy for students to make a choice which is a bad fit for them," says Sarah Hawkin. Mastersranking.com allows alumni to rank programmes themselves, from quality of teaching to return on investment.
Chris Howorth of Royal Holloway states: "It is clear that the current global conditions are going to take some time to settle down and may well get worse before they improve. Careers such as investment banking that have traditionally offered high salaries may well be difficult to enter whilst the current economic outlook remains uncertain. Opportunities for entrepreneurs are going to be constrained by the lack of available finance and positions that appeared safe even 12 months ago may now be precarious."
So what should you consider? When the economic conditions begin to recover it is likely that organisations will look to recruit the best and most qualified talent to ensure high levels of productivity and avoid re-embedding skills gaps that have been a source of problems in the past. CVs that would otherwise contain gaps or periods of low-status work could look much stronger with added higher level qualifications. An MSc in International Business or Management is an ideal qualification to address both the needs of employer and employee. There are, however, an increasing number of these programmes on the market and, as with most products, it is important that consumers choose carefully if they are to get the best return on their investment.
Clearly, individuals with solid experience should continue to consider MBA programme offerings, as these are likely to provide some of the best opportunities. If you have been in work for less than three years, you should consider the pre-experience MSc route. Good programmes will provide modules covering a wide range of business and management topics, including HR, Marketing, Accounting, Information Systems and Strategy, amongst others. You should also expect to see a range of electives covering various areas such as Finance, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Risk Management, etc. You will also find elements of group work, personal development and soft skills training. Other features to consider may be internship possibilities, the school's careers links and its alumni network.
Once you have identified a range of programmes offering the core and elective package that meets your needs you should consider accreditation and rankings. A programme with either a reputable ranking (EQUIS or AACSB at the School level) or a recognised ranking will ensure broad recognition with employers when you come to market yourself.
And the pay-off? To quote Della Bradshaw, Business Education Editor at the Financial Times: "In times of crisis what companies need are great managers, when businesses are growing they also need great managers. What is clear, though, is that students graduating in 2008 and 2009 are going to find recruitment pretty tough. I am certain, though, that those with a masters degree will be better placed than those graduates who only have an undergraduate degree."
So what do recruiters say? Martin Bojam, Deputy Chairman of JWT, writes: "It's perfectly true that the basics of almost all masters degrees are very similar. Undertaking a masters should provide a participant with a set of disciplines, thought processes and leadership skills which will take them a long way. As a result of the course, they should have a greater understanding of risk, an internationality of outlook, an understanding of the applications of technology and the importance of relevant innovation, and, especially important in the globalised twenty-first century, the ability to work with others across cultural divides." Yet this is no longer totally sufficient.
The point is that whilst masters degrees aren't exactly two a penny, they are becoming more common, and therefore the possessor of what we might call a generic masters degree is no longer differentiated from his or her peers in quite such an absolute manner. Market trends bear this out: numbers seeking the generic qualification have stuttered, while those applying for "specialist" MBAs have grown dramatically. Perhaps most importantly, employers, faced with a number of equally highly qualified candidates, are increasingly looking for relevance. Marketing is a good case in point. As a discipline, it has evolved from a set of simple propositions essentially revolving around the profitable satisfaction of consumer needs into a science with a huge body of theory, research and practice underpinning its processes. The in-depth knowledge and highly relevant case studies and collaborative projects provided by a specialist masters in Marketing are clearly going to equip a potential employee more fully for a senior marketing career than the more generalised content of the generic product.
Of course, this is also especially true for the major multinational communications giants. Not only do they have to hire the brightest and the best across the board but their clients, usually highly experienced marketing people themselves, need partners whose depth of practical and theoretical knowledge matches and preferably exceeds their own - people, in other words, who can talk the talk and walk the walk, who can convince as well as do.
For these behemoths, finding the right person with the right masters is essential to their future success.
So what do Hawkin and Davis hope to achieve through Mastersranking.com? Hawkin states: "We really want people to have the most honest advice available to them, and we believe that alumni are best placed to give this advice. For many, especially at this time, a masters education is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; we want to ensure that this experience is as fulfilling as it can be".