Eager to launch an international career in brand management or consulting, 23-year-old Alexandra Gow hopes to catch an employer's eye by earning two business degrees at once – in Canada and Spain.
"Every company today is affected by the international business environment," says Ms. Gow, a Canadian studying in Spain. "Those who can better understand it are the ones who can come out on top and will be able to lead those companies."
She is among a growing number of students taking double, or dual, degrees offered by Canadian and overseas partners in agreements that cover admission requirements, curriculum, credit recognition, tuition and support for students.
The demand has "really snowballed," says Angela James, director of the centre for international management at Queen's University School of Business. "We hear it from all the students, no matter where they come from. They want to have as many doors open to them as possible."
The phenomenon began in Europe but is going global. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business reports 734 dual degree collaborations worldwide in 2011-12, up from 316 in 2009-10.
Queen's offers eight dual degrees, with another set for 2014, compared with only one in 2006 when the school introduced its masters of international business, coupled with overseas degrees.
Ms. Gow completed her master of international business at Queen's last spring before heading to Barcelona in August for her master of science in marketing management from ESADE Business School. ESADE's program is in English and she has the same privileges as other students (such as access to career advice), but she also takes Spanish-language courses to demonstrate intermediate fluency, a condition of graduation.
She won't receive either degree until she graduates from both institutions later this year.
Double degrees, a response to globalization trends, offer potential savings of time and money.
For example, Ms. Gow earns a degree from both institutions at a cost of $36,600 over 16 months, saving six months of schooling (with the elimination of duplicated courses). The cost is cheaper than if she paid $60,000 for the two programs.
Dual degrees are attractive to business schools as a recruitment tool for foreign students such as Lidia Magán of Barcelona, who took her master of international business at Queen's last year and is completing her masters of business administration at ESADE.
She speaks three languages and had to demonstrate top academic marks before being accepted for a dual degree.
Back in Barcelona, the 24-year-old reflects on her experience.
"At ESADE, I was used to studying and spending time with people who were similar to me and had lived most of their lives in Barcelona," she says. At Queen's "I was able to meet with, work with and spend time with people from lots of different countries."
She expects to graduate from both schools later this year, but already has a job in Barcelona with a Dubai consulting company. "Having the master of international business would show how much I am interested in having an international career," she says.
Double degrees extend the international experience beyond what is possible through student exchanges that typically last, at most, one semester.
Since 2010, Laval University's Faculty of Business Administration has offered master's level double degrees with five French business schools, with 20 students a year coming here and five Laval students going there. Laval hopes to add master's level agreements with schools in England and Germany and may add dual degrees for business undergraduates.
"We want to give a chance for all our students to have an international experience," says Issouf Soumaré, the faculty's director of international relations.
Since 2006, the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business has offered undergraduate dual degrees with three Chinese universities, with two more just signed. Students spend two years at their home institution before travelling abroad for the final two years of studies. In 2012, 21 students (mostly from China) were enrolled in this way, up from one in 2006.
"We find them to be extremely beneficial for us in drawing top-quality students," says Elango Elangovan, director of international programs at Gustavson, which has dual degrees with EDHEC in France and Arizona's Thunderbird School of Global Management.
"Students already thinking internationally or globally recognize if they want to have employment opportunities in North America and Asia and Europe, it is good for them to have credentials from both regions or continents," he says.
Negotiating dual degrees takes time and patience, with agreements that typically run for five years.
"The key is quality assurance," says Sylvie Seguin-Jak, director of the Student Services Centre at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management. Her school has agreements with three counterparts in France and plans to add a few more, but only with those that, like Telfer, have international accreditation.
Some employers see dual degrees as a way for applicants to stand out in a crowd.
In 1999, while at the University of Ottawa, Sebastien Dignard earned a double degree in business from his home institution and École Supérieure de Commerce in Reims, France.
Now a manager with Xerox Canada in Ottawa, he hires new recruits and gives those with double degrees a close look. "It shows me they are go-getters," he says.