Studying abroad could get you a job in finance

But if you’re looking for international business exposure, you may not need to look further than our own capital

AT FIRST glance, the argument for taking your masters in finance degree abroad seems compelling. Just nine of the top 30 courses in the FT rankings are based in the UK, while business schools across the world are competing to attract the top international talent. But is studying overseas really worth your time and money and, crucially, will it help you land a job?

In terms of initial costs, postgraduate tuition fees in the UK are competitive. You can take a top 30 masters in finance programme at the University of Bath for just £14,000. London fees tend to be higher, hovering around the £20-25,000 mark, although this is still reasonable on an international scale. Olin Business School in Washington, for example, charges $52,000 (£34,000), while fees at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management are €33,400 (£28,300).

There are some notable exceptions, particularly in emerging markets. Tuition fees at the Coppead Graduate School of Business in Brazil, for example, are just R$36,295 (£11,900).

But it’s also important to factor in the cost of living – an area in which London is also becoming increasingly competitive. Just five years ago, it was the third most expensive city in the world – today it is sixteenth, well below the likes of Tokyo, Sydney and Paris, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living index.

But of course, the higher cost of study could be worthwhile if it improves your post-study prospects.

Employers do like to see international experience on candidates’ CVs. A survey by Global HR News found that 73 per cent of human resources (HR) executives cited study abroad as important when evaluating applications for entry-level positions.

But be aware that different people value overseas experience in different ways. Research from the Council on International Education Exchange found that employers who had studied abroad themselves rated it as more important. And while “HR professionals favoured year-long programmes, senior managers preferred shorter, 14 to 18 week internships.”

Interestingly, the Global HR News survey also found that 67 per cent of HR executives think that studying in a culturally-diverse environment is enough to distinguish a candidate from those studying only with students from their own country.

And you don’t need to go abroad to find cultural diversity in the classroom. In some cases, the UK may even have the upper hand. For example, while 60 per cent of masters in finance students in French schools come from France, just nine per cent of students in UK schools are native Brits. In addition, just over half of students worldwide who study in another country choose to do so in Britain.

Many UK schools also offer the chance to integrate international experience into your studies. London Business School (LBS), for example, is planning to launch an international exchange programme at the end of the year. The London School of Economics, meanwhile, offers students the opportunity to study for a Master of Business Administration course at Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Paris (HEC Paris) in the reduced time frame of 12 months (usually 15) when combined with any masters degree programme.

You might also be considering using your overseas masters course as a springboard into a job in your country of study. But you would be in the minority, if successful. More than half of masters in finance students who study overseas return home afterwards, and 80 per cent still work there three years later.

You might point to graduates from the only Chinese business school to rank in the top 30 programmes – the Guanghua School of Management in Peking – 95 per cent of whom go on to work in China. The programme boasts an employment rate of 100 per cent, and an average salary three months after graduation of $96,802 (£63,896) – the highest in the world.

But the school also has the lowest international diversity rating in the top 30, and getting a job in China as a foreigner is almost impossible without a strong grasp of the culture, and language at a native level. Fluency as a non-native is usually not enough – even passing level 11 (the highest level) of the Chinese Proficiency Test only requires you to score 80 per cent. While impressive, this leaves a 20 per cent margin for error – not something employers want when you’re dealing with their clients’ money.

There may be more opportunities where the language barrier is either non-existent (as in the US and Australia), less of an issue (as in Dubai, India, Hong Kong and Singapore), or easier to overcome (as in continental Europe).

Europeans are especially keen to attract foreign students, with the number of masters courses being taught in English outside the UK more than quadrupling in the past five years, according to data from Masters Portal. Meanwhile, the post-study visa restrictions that are present in the UK are absent in places like the US and Australia.

But even if your primary motivation is just to get exposure to multinational employers, with the intention of working abroad later, you may still be better off staying in the City.

Jane Charlton, senior programme manager of the masters in finance course at LBS, says that London is one of the best places in the world to study finance because of its status as the leading global financial centre. Her statement is backed up by statistics from IMAS, which last year found that 46 per cent of all UK financial services businesses worth over £100m are owned overseas.

Charlton adds that studying in London opens doors across the water – just 42 per cent of the most recent masters in finance cohort from LBS went on to work in the UK, while the rest went to destinations including Asia (30 per cent), Europe (12 per cent) and Latin America (seven per cent).

A final consideration is whether or not the alternative teaching systems will suit your style of learning.

Jacques Olivier, professor of finance at HEC Paris, says that UK students are attracted to French business schools because of their hands-on approach to teaching. “The main difference between the UK system and ours,” he says, “is that teaching in the UK is split between lectures and discussion groups, while in the French system all classes are taught in groups of no more than 50 students.” Students at French schools will also have more contact hours – between 400 and 450 every year. If you prefer more self-directed learning, however, the French system probably isn’t for you. Information about programme structures at different schools is usually easily found on their websites.

Studying your masters abroad could make you more employable to some, but this is not a universal rule. If you’re looking for cultural diversity and the opportunity to work overseas after graduation, your attention might be better directed at business schools based in the global financial centre right on our doorstep.