With fifteen years in financial services, Rajiv Shastri had an enviable career in Mumbai, but the prospects of a masters in applied economics was even more enticing. So he started looking at possible universities abroad that he could attend. “I was looking at the US and the UK. The university at Strathclyde, Glasgow caught my attention,” states the forty-one-year-old consultant at a reputed financial services firm.
That degree in economics, management and policy seemed to be tailor-made for him. Like Shastri many Indian students are choosing Scotland not only for the low cost of living but also its rich history in economics. Says Tanushree Bhattacharya, head, training and development, The Chopras, an overseas educational consultancy firm, “Scotland was not so popular but word of mouth and the availability of scholarships make Scottish universities the perfect destination for young talents from India. These universities offer expertise in the areas of financial economics, macro and microeconomics, developmental economics, applied economics, econometrics and labour economics. Most of them also offer international exposure along with employment opportunities.”
Says Smriti Agarwal, counsellor at GlobeEd, another firm that counsels students going abroad, “Unlike in many other countries, you can earn a masters degree in a year in Scotland while a PhD takes three years. Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Dundee appear in the top thirty rankings issued by the Government Research Assessment Exercise in the UK.”
With the financial sector showing signs of steady growth in India, many students who were earlier planning to go overseas for an MBA degree are now showing an interest in economics. “Since the programmes are shorter, Scotland attracted nearly 4,000 Indian students, comprising eight per cent of total international students or 14 per cent of non EU students,” says Naveen Chopra, chairman, The Chopras. The University of Glasgow, Glasgow, for instance, has a distinguished record in economics that dates back to the father of modern economics Adam Smith, who was a professor at the university in the eighteenth century. “University of Glasgow students are famed for their research and 75 per cent of their research output is considered to be internationally excellent. They are employed in international organisations, ministries, academia, research institutions, NGOs, banks and other financial institutions,” says Alexander Kovalenkov, leader of economics at the University of Glasgow.
In recent years, the one-year Scottish graduate programme in economics that awards a general MSc, has emerged a clear winner among foreign students. Says Bhattacharya, “What makes this programme unique is that the MSc in economics is taught at the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the top eight Scottish universities”. So students get to live and learn in Edinburgh but are taught by staff from the best economics departments in Scotland including Glasgow. It draws on the teaching and research expertise of the economics departments of Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Stirling and Strathclyde universities. The programme has close links with Scotecon, an organisation funded by the Scottish government to conduct research in Scottish economic policy. It is recognised by the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC), which provides the largest amount of funds in the UK for research on economic and social issues. Students who complete the one-year degree often embark on a PhD or find work as professional research economists at financial and government institutions in the UK and elsewhere, including in India.
“The Scottish graduate programme in economics (SGPE) is one of the research training pathways that forms part of the ESRC Scottish Doctoral Training Centre. It is part of a recognised UK route to a PhD in economics and students who opt for this take intense courses in micro and macroeconomics and econometrics in the autumn and winter semesters. In spring, they choose three more specialised courses from a range of sixteen options and in summer they write their MSc dissertation. In some cases, the dissertation is one that has been commissioned by an external agency. All PhD students at the University of Edinburgh are eligible to apply to the SGPE programme, which entitles them access to further doctoral level training,” says Norval Scott, international press officer, communications and marketing, University of Edinburgh.
Misha Sharma, a 25-year-old graduate in economics from Stella Marie College, Chennai, was one of the four Indians in her class who took up the course in 2010. Says Sharma, “There were two courses that Edinburgh offered for masters in economics. I took up the SGPE and not the MSc in economics with a specialisation in finance. This led me to explore various courses, which can range from environmental economics, history of economics, developmental economics and others.” Sharma chose the University of Edinburgh because the degree enhanced her employability and improved her research preparedness if she wanted to do a doctorate. “It added market value and you feel more confident in applying for economics-oriented jobs,” says Sharma. The low cost of living and a friendly Scottish community also appeal to the students. “The tuition for the SGPE course was £11,500 while living expenses were within £5,500,” states Sharma. Shastri, the chartered accountant from Mumbai, paid £9,300 as tuition fees and £7,200 as food and lodging costs. “Most Indians who get a masters from Scotland do it at half the cost compared to the US or Canada. A student with a masters gets a job offer of a minimum of £20,000 that helps him or her get a tier two work permit in Scotland and the UK. Students can also remain in Scotland for up to four months after they have completed their studies,” points out Agarwal.
“Although there were changes made to the British visa regulations in April 2011, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) continues to recognise Scotland’s universities as top-ranked institutions in the world that grant most of them the ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status. This status guarantees that international students at Scottish universities are permitted to work 20 hours part-time during their studies and full-time during vacations,” says Scott. “Those pursuing courses longer than 12 months and government-sponsored students taking courses longer than six months are permitted to bring family members to Scotland. Family members are permitted to work and have unrestricted access to the UK labour market,” states Scott. International graduates who wish to start their own businesses in the UK can also apply for a new student entrepreneur’s visa.
Despite the silver lining, not all students are fully funded through the SGPE. But there are different scholarships available which change from year to year (see box). “Scholarships like the Saltire, offered by the Scottish government and its higher education institutions offer up to 200 awards, each worth £2000,” informs Agarwal.
While the prospects of a Scottish degree in economics might seem golden, some offer a word of caution. Opines Sharma, “Most of the SGPE course is quantitative and mathematical while we in India are trained in theory at the bachelors level. So, a lot of hard work is required to make the cut. A student’s knowledge of mathematical economics should be very strong. One should be adept with the current econometric tools.”
“The SGPE programme is a highly focused, in-depth one suited for those wishing to develop the skills needed for a doctorate degree or for a career as a research economist. By the end of the course students should be proficient in analytical and quantitative techniques essential to be a professional economist,” agrees Jonathan Thomas, director, MSc economics, University of Edinburgh.
Sharma says that out of the four Indian students in her class, only two received a diploma, because of the difficulty they had with the course content. Some like Shastri also believe that the economic perils that Europe is facing now has impacted the employment prospects of young graduates and many might have to come back to India. Adds Bhattacharya, “The Scottish winters can be too harsh for many.”
Despite the inclement weather, many believe it would not be too long before Indians start choosing the Gaelic land of lochs for a postgraduate degree in economics.
Matters - For masters and phd: £11,500 (Rs 9,45,338 approx)
Edinburgh Global Masters Scholarships: 40 masters scholarships for 2012-2013. Fifteen scholarships worth £5,000 each and 25 scholarships with a value of £3,000 each.
Principal’s Indian Masters Scholarships: 15 scholarships for Indians studying for a masters in 2012-2013. Each worth £3,000 per academic year.
Edinburgh Global Research Scholarships: at least 30
scholarships for PhD students for the academic year 2012-2013. Each award covers the difference between the tuition fee for a UK / EU graduate student and that chargeable to an overseas graduate student. The awards do not cover maintenance expenses.
Economic and Social Research Scholarships: funded by the Economics and Social Research Centre, UK (mostly for PhD aspirants)
Commonwealth Scholarships: for masters and PhD
Inlaks Foundation Scholarship
University Trust International Leadership Scholarship: 52 scholarships for masters
Commonwealth Shared Scholarship Scheme
Dorothy Hodgkin Post
Scottish Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme (Sorsas)
Aga Khan Foundation
Charles Wallace Trust