Ranking & Profile of an Abroad University and Stay Back Opportunities – Do They Really Matter? – Food For Thought!
While embarking on study abroad journey, one of the most common confusions faced by the students is how to choose the right university. To be honest, I went through the same phase when I was a study-abroad aspirant myself. While speaking to the candidates every day, I get queries like what is ranking of the university and/or requests like I want to get into a top-ranked university. Worst is when I get to hear – “I just need a PR in the country“.
Rankings/ Reputation of Foreign University and Stay Back Options in Abroad:-
There is no harm at all to target a top tier university. In fact, it is good to target the reputed institutes in order to receive quality education and training, to get placed at reputed firms with handsome package and also to get some accolades from peers and relatives (a common phenomenon in Indian society). But, the problem starts when students go blindly after rankings and reputation of the universities. University rankings (regional and global) play a huge role in influencing the students’ decision for finalizing the university. Quite often they end up applying and studying at a University just because of its overall ranking and reputation, and ignore evaluating the course content and their own interests.
What I would strongly recommend is to choose the course that fulfills your interests and career goals. Students should prioritize the course contents and learning outcomes first, followed Faculty/Department reputation, industry links, placements (internship and employment), overall rankings, location, fees etc. For examples, if you are from B.Com background and wish to specialize in Equity Research Analysis or Financial Engineering then not all the top-ranked universities (or all top ranked universities in Finance) are going to be great choices for you. Similarly, studying Architecture from a not so reputed by RIBA accredited university can make you more successful than doing it from a reputed university that is not accredited by RIBA.
In my case, I was interested in Molecular Pharmacology, Neuro-Pharmacology and Drug Discovery. So, the MSc Pharmacology program at Aston University (which ranks within Top 30 in the UK) was a great option. Besides, Subject ranking was excellent (was within Top 5 in the UK in Pharmacy & Pharmacology), the course fee was reasonable and located in Birmingham, which very central and well connected to the rest of the UK, and the living expenses was also very manageable. Last but not the least; Aston has got a great graduate employability rate. I had four other offers, including two from better ranked and reputed universities (in London and Glasgow), but I chose Aston after considering all the above factors – and I never regretted. Aston University still continues to be one of the best universities in the UK for Pharmacy & Pharmacology (see here – Top 10 UK Universities for Pharmacology). Aston is no near to Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial College, but it is one of the most sought after UK universities.
If you are from Oil & Gas or Petroleum Energy Engineering background, universities like Texas A&M, University of Texas at Austin, Michigan State, Aberdeen, Robert Gordon, Heriot-Watt, Colorado, and Stavanger would be better choices than big brands (see Top 10 Universities in the World for Petroleum Engineering). Likewise, if you wish to pursue MS in Automobile Engineering, Germany is as good as USA. Students should look beyond the University Rankings and stay back opportunities, and think about the return on investment (ROI) for the course they are going to study – also very well explained by Arun Kumar in his blog titled University Ranking – Does It Really Matter!
One of the primary objectives of education is to get employed. When it comes to employment, employers do not care where you studied. All they care about are your skills, knowledge and attitude. In terms of graduate employment, British universities like Aberdeen, Warwick, Nottingham, Keele, De Montfort, Northumbria, Durham, Aston, Coventry, Robert Gordon, Bristol, Anglia-Ruskin, Birmingham, Bath Spa, Stirling, West London, East London etc. beat the top names like Imperial College London, Manchester, UCL, Oxford and Cambridge. Strange huh! Please refer to reports by Telegraph and Guardian. Few major reasons are being that the less prestigious universities provide courses that are tailored to the job market, backed by internships and optional placements, and more practical oriented teaching. The scenario is very much similar in other popular study abroad destinations like US (report by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post) and Australia. In the US, there are around 4000 institutes for tertiary (post-secondary) education. Failing to secure an offer at an Ivy League institute does not make you inferior or unemployable. In Australia, the recent graduates from lower ranked universities have been earning more than their counterparts who studied at the elite ones – as reported by Matthew Knott in The Sydney Morning Herald. In the past one year I have seen students from premier institutes (in India) who struggle very badly to write a CV and Cover Letter; hence studying at prestigious institute do not always guarantee six-figure salary (and sometimes even a job). Then studying at elite institutes means shelling out more money (or getting into huge debt) in order to pay your fees – for students from middle-class families it should be a real concern. For the PhD aspirants, especially from the STEM field, aka future scientists – a less prestigious university could be better in the long-term. Surprised right? – read “What’s It Like to Get a PhD in Science?”
Among all subjects, MBA is one of the most popular study abroad subjects. Unarguably, the MBA aspirants belong to the category that is comparatively crazier about the rankings and reputation. MBA programs generally cost you much more than other Masters programs. First of all you need to assess your needs. If you have got a family business to look after, then a Fresher MBA should be good enough; no need to spend fortune just for glamour. According to me, two vital parameters to consider while choosing the right B-School should be ROI and Payback Time rather than Raking and Reputation, as described by Poets & Quants, Business Insider, Bloomberg, MBA Crystal Ball, The Economist. Quite often students go blind about the country and entry requirements as well. MBA from a below par B-School in the US is not going to make you a better Manager or Entrepreneur, but an MBA program from a decent University in Europe or Asia can. Likewise, there are lots of universities that do not ask for GMAT scores (see the list of MBA without GMAT by MBA Crystal Ball), and they are not sub-standard at all (I did get a response from an MBA aspirant last year – oh that school does not ask for GMAT score….. well then I do not think it is worth applying to). The same goes for MBA programs that do NOT ask for Mandatory Work Experience as an entry requirement. I hope you have read this one – Why SolBridge MBA is Worth for Indian Students or Why do MBA in Europe rather from US. In India, several MBA aspirants consider top US B-Schools just to get ooohs and aaahs from peers and relatives. But, they forget to consider the employability factor. State Universities in the US or the relatively less prestigious Canadian universities can create better job prospects, at least locally if you are looking to stay back. In terms of overall costs, entry requirements, and local employment aspects, Canadian B-Schools can prove to be far more effective. To know more read the blogs – Best MBA programs in Canada for International Students and List of Top MBA Colleges in Canada.
I would like to emphasize on the fact that you should choose a program, university and even the country based on your interests and career goals. I included the country factor because a significant population of students chooses country over course/university – and that is totally wrong. Quite often students opt for Canada, Australia or New Zealand just because of that fact that these countries provide the opportunity of Permanent Residency (PR). At the end of the day, if you are not skilled enough, these countries are not even going to give you a Work Permit. The same goes for US as a destination. The recent changes in OPT rule now allow international students to stay and work in the US for 6 years without H1B visa, but as Sameer Kamat explained in his blog article New OPT Rules in the US – students can get exploited by dodgy employers. If you are not aware – American and Australian degrees are the most expensive ones in the world. In Canada, there are numerous top class universities; but studying at a very low ranked institute or doing an irrelevant Post-Graduate Diploma from community college is not going to give you a glamorous career.
I would urge all the students not to get biased by all the glamour and glitz of rankings and reputation, and not at all due to PR opportunities. Countries like Germany, Ireland, Poland, UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Korea, Finland, Norway and others can give you far more illustrious and rewarding career. I graduated from the UK in the year 2009/2010, when the recession was its worst – and I did manage to get employed at one of the most prestigious places in the world within 2 months of finishing my course. It also helped me to get more employable globally, since I did work in Netherlands and Australia as well following my education and employment in the UK. Please keep in mind that Study Abroad should be considered as a Key to a Successful International Career, and not a de facto Ticket to Permanent Residency or Immigration.
I would like to finish off the article by saying two more things –
Do NOT choose a Country merely based on Stay Back Opportunities; instead go for an excellent program, opportunities will come anyway – kind of “3 Idiots” philosophy. If you are from Computer Science & IT background, do look beyond US. Ireland or Germany could be better options in terms of cost-effectiveness and job prospects.
Similarly, Do NOT go just after reputation, profile and rankings only, you could have a better career by studying the right course at a lower ranked university. The best career may be achieved by studying at a LOW RANKED or LESS PRESTIGIOUS University, – similar to what Late Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam had said “The BEST BRAINS of the nation may be found on the LAST BENCHES of the classroom”.