Posts Tagged ‘ Knowledge ’

£18,000 later, was my master’s degree worth the investment?

For me, 2010 was the year of living dangerously. I quit my ‘lucrative’ job at a local Nigerian bank to fulfill my goal of joining the group of Nigerians who constitute 11.9%  of students in the United Kingdom (U.K). I believed that obtaining a master’s degree was imperative and timely. My decision was made more prominent in the face of an economic decline, fragile labour market conditions and a home-grown banking crisis partly insulated from the global one. Staff morale was at an all time low and it was apparent that the cheese had moved.

While all this was going on, I considered moving to another bank for the colloquial ‘next level’, but deep within me, I knew that such a career move was a horizontal one. I needed a vertical move, a quantum leap. Rather than take the option of an unpaid student leave, I decided to quit all together; that was my own way of crossing the bridge and burning it. The financial challenge was daunting, but I took solace in my belief that the eventual reward was greater than the immediate risk. In order to achieve my goal, I became a salesman of some sort, selling every asset I could come by: shares, skills, my car, properties etc.

Here I was at the University of Manchester (UoM), after crossing the hurdles of writing personal statements, securing reference letters, attending GMAT lessons and accepting ‘rejection emails’. I had wanted to study at the Judge Business School (Cambridge) or London Business School (LBS), but Cambridge “had carefully considered my application and regrettably decided not to invite me for an interview”. They tried to pacify me by claiming that “the decision was a result of the high degree of competition, not because of any specific weakness in the application”. I laughed. Likewise, LBS claimed that “the admissions committee was impressed with my application…but was sorry to have to disappoint me”. Now that got to me. At the end of the day, I was glad to be in Manchester.

At UoM, the learning curve was short but steep, and the teaching method was a lot different from what I was accustomed to. I was used to being ‘taught’, not lectured; I was more familiar with dictated notes and detailed explanations, not fancy presentations and cursory reviews. Without trying to devalue the experience, I must admit that there were moments when I struggled to remember why I had enrolled on the programme. Naturally, pertinent questions followed: was I getting value for money? Was 4 years of capital accumulation being squandered or being deployed to productive use? Interestingly, some of my colleagues expressed similar concerns about whether their expectations of the programme were being met. While these internal debates raged, I battled with more mundane issues like time management, little daylight hours, a long-distance relationship and what seemed like a mild depression. That is what studying in the U.K does to you. I took solace in the internet and its numerous social networking platforms: Youtube became my television, Facebook was my tabloid magazine and Twitter was more or less my daily newspaper. Skype was like oxygen, I needed it to survive.

These challenges paled into insignificance when exams drew near and essays were due for submission; and then came the dissertation writing period, when food and sleep became a luxury. It was a nerve wrecking experience and the fact that I was undertaking an internship concurrently made it more difficult. I did not enjoy writing my dissertation, but I enjoyed reading what I had written. Looking back, I feel that the curriculum placed too much emphasis on the student’s “capacity to undertake independent study”, but retrospect can make things a little hazy. As a matter of fact, it was while writing my dissertation that I realized I had acquired the planning, writing and research skills as guaranteed by my department when I enrolled on the programme.

Often, I am asked whether a foreign master’s degree is worth the investment. An impulsive answer would be YES, but after careful consideration, my response tends to be contextual. I am always quick to point out an example of two friends of mine who decided not to undertake a master’s degree in the same year that I did. Although we are in different career paths, we belong to the same age group and had roughly equal years of work experience in our respective organisations. About half-way through my programme, they both took up important and lucrative roles in multinationals – one, an oil producing company and the other a global technological giant with a regional office in Nigeria. Nevertheless, they still plan to pursue post-graduate degrees abroad, although for both of them, there has been a shift from a specialist masters to an MBA. My point – I guess it is just a matter of timing, at least for individuals interested in building a career. Perhaps, the relevant question should not be “is it worth it?” but rather – “when should I do it?”

Looking back, is my master’s degree worth more than the paper it was printed on? In terms of content and delivery, I must admit that my expectations were not fully met; however, in terms of prospects, they were exceeded. Overall, I gained immense benefits from my degree. In addition to the promised benefits of cutting-edge knowledge, critical thinking skills and access to global networks, personal benefits abound. I have a more focused sense of my career goals and my degree has certainly enhanced my profile among potential employers. Moreover, I have had a year out to evade the recession, although it still prevails.

£18,000 (incl. associated costs) is a lot of money to spend on an experience that will end up as a bullet point on your CV, so it is not surprising that the average graduate is preoccupied with overcoming the immediate challenge of converting the knowledge gained to income. Before taking the plunge and joining the “11.9%”, it is important to evaluate the total cost of a master’s degree and the prospects of recouping it from a higher salary after graduation; nevertheless, a more pertinent issue is whether the degree helps to meet ones career ambitions. In a rapidly globalized world, a foreign degree comes in handy for individuals who can leverage the international aspect of the degree, particularly the opportunities it presents. That said, if I were to pursue another post-graduate degree, it would likely be a part-time programme, except it is fully sponsored.

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